The Importance of Early Childhood Play Programs


As a parent myself, I have always valued that quality time in which I had an opportunity to sit down with my son and actually “play” with him.  It was in those moments when I really felt engaged and close to him, as we sang, tickled and just acted silly together.  Unfortunately, when I was a stay-at-home mom, there was always something else that often distracted me from being able to isolate that time for just Alexander and I.  I got up in the morning with good intentions of setting aside that time to just play with him.  However, the laundry, the house cleaning, the shopping, the paperwork and my business always managed to interrupt my good intentions.  

Having designated play time between a parent/caregiver and a child is critical however, not always easy to arrange.  Arranging time with your child at a quality structured play program is a great way to bond and take that time to just BE with your child and play together.  The benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of leaving unfinished tasks at home.

Why join a Play Program and have that designated play time between a parent/caregiver and child?

  1. A play program offers designated one on one time with your child. At home, household activities make it easy to forget the importance of sitting down and focusing just on playing together. By joining a play program you schedule uninterrupted time together.
  1. Play programs are often specific to children in a certain age group. By joining a play program you have the opportunity to meet other parents/caregivers with children the same age living in your community.
  1. Any form of play helps to develop and enhance physical, cognitive, creative, social, and emotional skills in infants and preschool children. Children begin to feel a mastery over their world if they are given the opportunity to engage in process-oriented play that is age-appropriate and child-centered.
  1. Providing ample opportunity for age-appropriate play during the first six years of life is a key factor in the development of a competent, independent, self-confident and happy child.
  1. Parents/caregivers who engage in play with their child help them to cultivate positive relationships, develop trust and security, build self-esteem and nurture parent/caregiver and child interaction.

How can you help playtime and the parent child activities you choose achieve these benefits?

  1. Ask yourself if the program or activities are age-appropriate. Age-appropriate play meets the developmental needs of children in a specific age group. A quality program ensures that the child is developmentally ready for the specific activities, interested in them, and that they are not too difficult as to frustrate them or so simple that they lose their interest.
  1. Consider the importance of process-oriented play. Process-oriented play does not focus on an end result but concentrates on the creative and spontaneous process. There may be a craft for example that is produced during the course of the program but completing the final product is less important than the developmental processes that your child used to create it.
  1. Ask what kinds of learning does a quality program strive to achieve? Here are some examples: encouraging creativity and imagination, developing listening skills, strengthening the ability to follow simple instructions, fostering independence and self esteem, forming concrete ideas about the world and its different environments, providing an outlet for self-expression and emotional development, fostering social interaction and cooperation, encouraging problem solving, arouse natural curiosity.
  1. Recognize your child’s individual needs. Children need to learn at their own pace based on their age and stage of development. Many of us have sat through a “play group” or “circle time” in which we remained in a circle for the entire length of the class, or the children were expected to follow the teacher’s lead, with little room or consideration for individuality; many children were up and wandering around, while others were crying because they could not run around. Some children were participating in the action songs, while others preferred to just do their own thing. Each child responds and learns at their own pace, based on their age and stage of development. When choosing a class consider the needs of your child. You may want to search for a more loosely structured class where the programs respond with spontaneity and react to children’s level of interest and understanding at that time.

Good luck, now go PLAY!!!!!!

Kimberly Smith is a Registered Early Childhood Educator with focus on children with special needs.  She is the mother of an 8 year old boy with Aspergers, Tourettes Syndrome and ADHD.  She currently works with the York Region District School Board, is a presenter with Kiwi Seminars and is actively involved with the York Region Anti Bullying Coalition.


Image source: Tallahassee Grapevine