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Children's Play - How Children Learn and Have Fun At The Same Time

Babies and toddlers are incredibly smart, and pick up things they see around them. They absorb things from their environment like a sponge, observing and imitating. The rate at which children learn in the first years of life is never duplicated in later years. This is why teaching children at this age various skills, such as having an ear for multiple languages, is a great idea- it's much more difficult in later years to develop certain skills.

There are different ways to teach children, and a popular idea that I love is known as unstructured play, where children are not provided with specific toys to focus on, zoned into special play areas, or sat in front of a TV to watch specific things. My 19 month old son loves it too, because he basically has his run of things, and it's amazing what he does.

Basically, I let little man have his pick of toys, tools, or gadgets while I supervise him, and he picks what he is naturally drawn to, to play with, explore, and learn about. The effects of this are incredible- my son has attempted to wash dishes, can use a Tassimo to make cappuccino, can dress himself in pants and a shirt, can insert a DVD, turn on the TV and play a movie- all things I never taught him. I simply let him have fun, and these are the things he attempts (from observation and memory) and masters. A great side effect of this is that he is learning what he is good at and what he enjoys doing, and so am I. I am learning more about my son, and it's fascinating to watch how children learn and figure things out. Other benefits include expanding his creativity, stretching skills such as problem solving, and learning to have fun without depending on an electronic gadget or toy.

What are ways to try this with your child?

  1. If you are in the habit of providing your child with things to entertain them, pull back and see what they pick up or express an interest in. If it's safe, allow them to play with it. I let my son play with my camera, "tools" for tots (mini-sized, safe version of adult tools), locks and keys, gadgets with buttons . . .  whatever he shows an interest in that is safe.
  2. If your child is used to watching TV or playing with certain toys and doesn't seem to know what to do without them, feel free to suggest things, take out paints or craft supplies, etc to help them get their own creative juices flowing. Let them do what they want (within reason) with what you offer, and they will learn cause and effect, how to manipulate and maneuver things, etc. Your child may create a fort, figure out their own version of origami…the possibilities are endless and a joy to see.
  3. Supervise them. While unstructured play can be a lot of fun and a great way to learn at the same time, as with all play, children should be supervised and not left alone (unless in your home with nothing hazardous around). It's also fun to take pictures or videotape them exploring, creating, and having fun for memories…just don't make them stop to pose for pictures.

Penelope is a mom of one toddler and talks about how to have a happy family, relationships, recipes, beauty and more on her site Penelope's Oasis.