We have recently spoken with three child development experts about this question, beginning with renowned counsellor, scientist and storyteller, Dr. Deborah MacNamara, along with early childhood education college instructors, Candiss Brown and Nika Jibrael. According to all three, play is where it all begins.
Summer break is approaching, and if you’re like me, you’re searching for some easy and straightforward ways to keep your children engaged this summer while also ensuring they don’t fall behind in their skills. The good news is that you don’t have to rely on boring workbooks and flashcards that barely hold your child’s attention and interest. Play is the child’s lab, and it is through play that children can experiment with new knowledge and solidify their understanding of concepts. Engaging, meaningful, and interactive experiences provide the deepest learning, according to research.
But what skills should you work on this summer? It used to be believed that kids only needed to memorize their ABCs and 123s. But after decades of research, we now know that their cognitive abilities, social-emotional skills, motor skills, and creative thinking skills are equally important. While reading, writing, and math are still essential skills to work on, it is also crucial to develop these other areas too. So here are some playful ideas to promote learning and skill-building during the summer, that will also keep your kids endlessly busy and engaged so you can relax and enjoy your summer moments too.
Playful Learning Ideas
Outdoor Construction Site
Try setting up an outdoor construction site in a corner of your yard with some stones, branches, and a few of the diggers they have long since forgotten. Arranging the simple materials you have around in a new inviting way, will inspire your child’s imagination and creativity. They will build their oral language skills as they create their own stories which are foundational skills every strong reader and writer needs. They will also strengthen their fine motor skills as they maneuver the trucks, logs, and dirt.
If you want to encourage your kids to explore a little math this summer, you can write numbers 1-10 on the ground in chalk (or have them do it) and ask them to collect that number of items for whatever number they’re on. They will be building their gross motor skills as they run and dash around, as well as their number recognition and counting skills.
Sensory play, the type of play that lets kids explore through their five senses, strengthens a child’s cognitive abilities including attention, memory, language, and spatial reasoning. A simple sensory play experience is to add some bubble bath to your water table or any large container and use your garden hose to create thick bubbles.
You can even bring out some kitchen tools like slotted spoons, or measuring cups to let your kids scoop and dump all the bubbles. Even if your kids have outgrown the water table stage, they can still enjoy and benefit from this unique sensory experience. That’s the beauty of play-based learning – your role as the parent is simply to provide the materials and inspiration. Your child, no matter their age, will take it in whatever direction they want from there.
The classic kids’ activity of making mud pies is another sensory play activity that also has immense developmental benefits for your child. You can hunt through your drawers to find some kitchen supplies you no longer use and turn a corner of your outdoor space into a mud kitchen. Adding some measuring cups and spoons will help your child build some of their early math skills. But even just creating their connotation and pretending to run a kitchen will grow their creative thinking skills, social skills, and language skills.
If you want to use those letter flash cards you have laying around, then do them more engagingly. Hide the cards all over your house or yard, and have your child go on a scavenger hunt. Every time they find one of the cards they can name the letter that is on it to build their letter identification skills. But they will also be building their observation and problem-solving skills at the same time. You can even take it up a notch and have your child give you the letter sound instead of the letter, or a word that starts or ends with that letter. There are so many ways to play that are more fun than a flashcard drill.
Learning can and should be fun. Just look for creative ways to infuse a little playful learning into the everyday routines you are already doing, and watch your child flourish. The bonus will be that you can sit back and enjoy your coffee hot because your kids will be endlessly busy at the same time.
Renée Jordan is Anderson and Frances’ mum. But she is also a teacher and curriculum designer with degrees in education, child development, and instructional design from the University of Victoria and Columbia University. She co-founded Earlybird, a free-to-download parenting app, with her business partner Sarah Hunter, to make sure every kid gets a strong start in life by empowering parents to get their kids learning through play. You can follow along @learnwithearlybird
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