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Mind games: Learning through play

All kids love to play, but playtime isn’t just for keeping children occupied and entertained. Play also helps children learn and develop in a variety of key areas.

mom and daughter crafting

Play helps young children physically, socially and intellectually. Physically, play develops their coordination, movement and motor skills. Socially, it helps boost their confidence, allows them to express themselves and teaches them about teamwork, manners, respect and positive relationships with others. And of course, play also benefits children intellectually as they learn new concepts and ideas.

Pick the right toys

Though electronics are cool and fun, it’s important that parents provide children with toys and games that allow the kids to do the thinking. For children to learn through play, they need to develop and use the skills to build, create and problem solve.

Construction toys

Construction toys are essential for children to develop spatial skills. These toys also foster their creativity and imagination. Simple blocks are terrific when kids are young. However, as they get older, look for other construction toys to capture and maintain their interests. Consider Laser Pegs Light-Up Building Set (Hearth Song, $45) or the Quadrilla Melody Basic Set (Hearth Song, $80). With Quadrilla, they aren’t just building structures for the heck of it. They are doing it to make the marbles move, so they have to think ahead about how to position the holes in the blocks.

Physical play

For your child to develop coordination, balance and gross motor skills — as well as learn about rules and teamwork — it’s important they are involved in physical play, both independent play and play with others. Physical play includes things like swings, slides, tunnels and trampolines, as well as balls and outdoor toys.

Imaginative toys

Everything from a simple cardboard box to dress-up clothes to hand puppets can stimulate your child’s imagination. Developing imagination is essential for development and learning. To be able to problem solve, kids need to have the ability to imagine and consider different outcomes.

Learning isn’t all about toys and games you can buy in the store. Much of learning can come through creative free play and simple life experiences.

Create a craft station

Arts and crafts help spawn creativity. Instead of buying prepackaged craft kits, create a craft room or area in your home where your children explore and create on their own without instructions. In addition to the standard arts and crafts supplies — paint, crayons, clay, glue, scissors and such — supply scraps of fabric, leftover wrapping paper, old greeting cards, magazines, newspapers, flyers and even take-out menus. Every week, name a “theme of the week” for your family and allow each child to create an amazing project based on the theme. You’ll be surprised by what they come up with.

Take math to the kitchen

Incorporate math into your regular everyday activities and make it fun. Cooking with your kids offers a host of benefits, and one of them that is often overlooked is basic math skills. Start with grocery shopping where kids can learn about weight in the produce section. When comparison shopping, children can learn about division as you teach them to compare costs per unit. When back in the kitchen, toddlers can learn about counting as you crack eggs into the bowl or scoop spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the sheet. Older kids can learn about fractions by using measuring cups and spoons. Beyond math, cooking together can also promote literacy and improve vocabulary, as well as teach children about ingredients and foods from different cultures and countries. And best of all, it provides quality bonding time for the family.

Explore and learn from nature

Children can learn a lot just from playing outdoors — whether at the park or in your own backyard. Go on a nature hike and allow your child to collect things along the way — fallen acorns and leaves, rocks, broken sticks and other items. Kids can use these items to create craft projects or just build collections. Work with them to research and find out what type of leaves, rocks and other elements they’ve discovered. Create a garden together. Even without much space, you can build a garden to produce herbs or vegetables. Gardening is fun play for kids and a terrific way to teach them about the life cycle of plants.

Young children are always interested in playtime. By giving a purpose and structure to their play — as well as providing the time and supplies for free play — parents can help their children learn and grow physically, socially and intellectually.

More about play and learning

6 Weekend adventures for the family
Create a fairy or dinosaur garden
Family fun: Bring out your inner artist

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