We are very happy to have a chance to interview Carrie Lupoli, a parenting expert and the Fisher-Price “Power of Play” Ambassador on how playing can help children learn and develop.
Carrie has a Masters of Art in Special Education and a Masters of Education. She is also an international consultant in the field of parenting and education.
Qn. What is play? How has play been misunderstood?
Interactively playing with your child is the single most important gift a parent can give to their little one. When we think about the fact that the brain is the only non-fully developed organ at birth, we as parents have a mind-boggling responsibility to ensure the experiences we are giving our children in the early years will truly enhance the development of the brain.
Research shows that play exposes children to just about every developmental skill necessary to form a strong foundation for learning in the future. Play can actually expose children to so many more skills than any other program or technology out there.
I think play is just not understood as much as it should be. Because of the demands of school-aged children, academically, parent feel that it is a reasonable idea that if a child is going to be required to perform at a certain level in school, the earlier they start teaching it to them directly, the more successful in school they will be. The thing is, because of the way our young children’s brains are developing, what parents probably don’t understand is that play-based learning is the best way to actually incorporate all the foundational skills and more that will be necessary for successful school experiences.
I always say, “When you know, you can do” and I believe that parents want what is best for their child. Without truly understanding the value in play based learning, it is understandable that it isn’t practiced as much as it probably should be.
Qn.What are the different types of play? In what ways are they important to a child’s development?
Because our children have so much to learn during the first five years, there is no other way to be able to target all those necessary skills in any other way then through play. Research agrees that child initiated play is key as it helps a child to make decisions and problem solve. Parents can follow their child’s lead, guide and facilitate when necessary, but the child can direct activities while the parents take advantage of teachable moments. For example, if a child is playing with blocks and they fall down, a parent who may know when the tower is just too tall and can’t support any more blocks. It will be more beneficial for the child to experience the effect of putting that extra block on the tower instead of being stopped. Sure, he may be disappointed or even angry at his tower falling, but that is the perfect opportunity for a teachable moment by the parent to help him deal with the frustration and how to try it again so it doesn’t fall.
In infants, even though they can’t direct play as much as a toddler or preschooler, the key for a parent is to engage with your child as much as possible. Language is pivotal from the moment a baby is born, so that means, even if there is no one else in the room, talk to your baby all the time! In fact, there has been found to be a direct correlation between the number of words a child hears in the early years and those adults who later are met with academic, professional and personal success. So, even if you feel silly doing it, talking to your infant will help stimulate healthy brain development!
The key point to remember is that children initiate the play and I often suggest parents provide 3-5 toys or activities from which the child can choose. They can then take that learning or play based experience to where it brings them. Parents then follow their lead and interact with them based on where they are going with the learning, taking advantage of teachable moments along the way and ALWAYS remembering to talk and communicate with them!
Qn. Are all types of play equally important? Should we emphasise any type of play over others?
Parents play a crucial role in child play, although it is important to realize they don’t have to have a degree in childhood development to be effective! Although there is definitely a time and a place for children to play by themselves and independently engage with toys, the environment and their surroundings, parents who also interact with their children during play give them opportunities to develop in ways that solitary play cannot provide. It doesn’t have to be pre planned or technical, however. If a parent can get on the floor with a child, use LOTS of language and ask questions, provide encouragement and follow their lead, they will be offering their child incredible amounts of exposure to physical, cognitive and emotional learning.
Many people have researched play, the importance and benefits of it and have dug deep into the intricacies of categories of play. For parents, however, it can be really simple to be effective! Child initiated play is really important so that they are exploring their world in a way that makes sense to them and allows them to learn authentically.
It is important for parents to realize, however, that as children grow and develop, they will start with solitary play which means until the age of 2, they won’t likely engage in interactive play with other children or even adults. Adults will follow their child’s lead and incorporate tons of language with every interaction! Between the ages of 2-3 children will engage in more parallel play where they may play beside another child but will likely not engage in interactive play with that child until after the age of 3. They may grab each other’s toys, but it doesn’t mean they are engaging cooperatively with each other. In those instances, it is important for parents to be building social/emotional skills to discuss making good choices, sharing and how to use manners. All in all, parents who interact with their children during play, take advantage of teachable moments, don’t force the activities to go any one direction and help a child work through emotions, are playing effectively with their child!
Qn. How much time is recommended for different types of play?
Play is how our children learn best. Creativity and the imagination don’t work well with limits! Play will evolve as our children grow and there may be a time, once they are school age, that other responsibilities need to be planned for such as soccer practice, homework and other things like that, but if a child has the opportunity, let them go! It is never more beneficial from birth to infancy through toddler and preschool, than to allow your child to engage in play based learning.
Technology or tuition classes at these early ages will never reap the benefits that play can provide. There is no set time, per se, but if you have a child between the ages of 0-5 and trying to balance sport, tuition and other classes around unstructured playtime, my suggestion is to save those organized options for when they are in school. I think some “mommy and me” types of classes are great, but anything other than that is not what your child needs right now.
Give your child as many opportunities as you can for unstructured play, with you as an interactive participant, by themselves to grow independently and perhaps with other friends (although they won’t play interactively with each other until about 3 years old).
Qn. What are the other benefits of play?
When I work with parents, I give them a list of 10 things that they need to think about in order to raise independent, successful adults. One of them is to offer physical and emotional affection because when a child feels secure, safe and loved, they are much more able to take risks, try new things and preserve through tough times. A mode for being able to offer such affection should be done at a time when a child is in a natural environment and enjoying himself. Play time with a parent is a perfect opportunity to celebrate creativity, praise character and offer loving support when a child gets frustrated.
Qn. What is Play IQ? Is it a quantifiable measure?
Mattel Fisher Price has creatively and objectively put together the concept of Play IQ for parents to really understand how to incorporate play in their lives, how it impacts their child and what skills are developed as a result. Although Play IQ has been developed by Mattel and is not a specific, international measure, but it is a great tool that parents can use to help them in this area.
Qn.Parents often have limited time. How can they make the most of this time to help facilitate play/play with their kids?
As a working mom myself I know the limitations we have in finding time to get everything done! I have actually spent time at home and as a full time working mom and I can honestly say that when I am working, I planned for uninterrupted time with my kids more than I did when I was home with them. I think, because I was home all the time, I felt like I was with my children but I wasn’t engaged with my children because I was always doing something around the house, multi tasking, doing errands, etc. I rarely made time for uninterrupted play with my kids. However, when I worked full time, I was so much more cognizant of spending quality time where my phone was away and I was focused just on them. Quality versus quantity, if it has to be an “either/or” should win out.
Qn. As a working mother yourself, how do you balance work and spending time with your children?
It is never easy and an ongoing struggle to keep that balance but a few things I do to make sure I have it all together is to always plan out my week on Sunday. I plan our meals, do the grocery shopping and figure out what days the kids have activities. My husband travels a lot but is totally involved and a wonderful partner in life. I will say, however, it took us a while to figure out roles and who should be responsible for what. Once we got that down, life was a lot easier. I also ALWAYS wake up earlier than everyone else so I can get myself ready first before getting the little people together.
As my kids get older, I give them more and more responsibilities around the house. They have a checklist in the morning for the things they are responsible for doing and hold them to it! If they don’t brush their hair, they go to school looking disheveled, but they learn to do it the next time! I also am getting better at saying NO sometimes to certain things, even if they are good! I recently said I couldn’t volunteer at an event at school and at something at church. I knew that both would be wonderful, but the expense of the extra stress on our family and myself wasn’t worth it!