by Jenna Weglarz-Ward

Play is what children are made for and what they want to do best. Children learn by doing, touching, watching, and interacting with the world around them. Each child finds new and interesting ways to learn as they play. Children develop critical skills and abilities through play: they think, talk, move, share, compare, and develop socially.

These early skills lay the foundation for future academic skills in reading, math, and science. For example, as your child stacks blocks, he practices hand-eye coordination to place each block. He uses fine-motor skills to pick up each block and problem-solving skills to restack blocks that tumble. He may use language and social skills to ask for help and try again. He may arrange the blocks by color, shape, and size or count them.

A baby trying to feed herself learns about texture, smells, and taste when she scoops her applesauce in her fists on the way to her mouth. And toddlers who run around the house as superheroes develop imagination, coordination, and confidence.

Find activities you and your child already enjoy together. Pay attention to what you and your child are doing during these times. Then pick one thing to add into the activity to help support a specific skill. Other tips include:

  • Allowing your child to lead the play and make decisions about what to do next. Even babies can show you what they want and don’t want. Listen to and watch for cues on what they like and try to follow.
  • Allowing mess and temporary chaos! Most anything can be washed and cleaned up, so cover yourselves in shaving cream and bubbles. Use every pot and pan in the house to make a house band. Let your child dress up like a prince.

This originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of the Early Intervention Clearinghouse newsletter.

Playing to Learn