Building Brains by Playing with Your Children

Parents, did you realize that children develop essential skills that help them learn how to read long before formal reading instruction begins? These are called early literacy skills, and they include vocabulary, print motivation, phonological awareness, print awareness, letter knowledge, and narrative skills.

How do children gain these skills, exactly? The answer is simple. Through everyday nurturing interactions with you! When you talk, read, sing, and play with your children, you are helping them build these foundational skills, and you’re strengthening your bond with your child in the process. Win, win!

*This is the fourth post in a series of blogs about utilizing the early literacy practices (talk, read, sing, play) to foster your child’s development. This entry focuses on the practice of playing.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” –Fred Rogers

Research has consistently shown the positive impacts of play on child development. Through play, children practice and develop social skills, language skills, cognitive skills, and motor skills.

Play takes many forms and evolves throughout a child’s early years. Exploring their surroundings, building with blocks, creating art or music, dancing, and pretending are just a handful of the myriad ways in which young children play.

If you’re like the average parent, time and energy are precious commodities. Rest assured that setting aside just a few minutes a day to play with your child will strengthen your relationship and yield benefits that extend far beyond the years they’re interested in pretending you’re a dinosaur.

Make the most of playtime with these tips:

  • Let your child take the lead.
  • Make observations (“You built a structure with 7 blocks.”).
  • Ask open-ended questions (“What are you making?”).
  • Pose challenges (“I wonder what would happen if…”).
  • Focus your praise on their effort, rather than the outcome. This is key to developing a growth mindset.
  • Set up invitations to play by arranging a few enticing materials in a play space for your child to discover.
  • Add variety. Take it outside, add movement, create art, make a sensory bin, read a book and pretend to be the characters afterward, etc.

Want some fresh ideas for playful activities to enjoy with your young child? Check out this list of books from our parenting collection that will inspire YOU to ask your child, “Wanna play with me?”