What is the significance of play?

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the topic of play is clear.  In one Pediatrics publication article, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent Child Bonds, Kenneth Ginsburg shares, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.”

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children position statement, “Children can learn while at play through their own experience, through their interaction with peers, and through their interactions with adults”.  

Maybe children have all of the answers!  As adults, we don’t play much anymore.  Yet play is how we learn best and so very important to human development! Check out the Ted Talks Video:  Play is more than just fun with Stuart Brown. 26:42 This very interesting view will motivate you to revisit why play is so important to not only children but to all of us!

What can a nanny do to facilitate play?

There are numerous other experts in child development that advocate for developmentally age appropriate play opportunities for young children.  By accepting that play is an essential part of a child’s day, we will focus on 2 types of play a nanny can facilitate with their charges. Let’s first begin by examining structured play with intentionality.

Structured play can be planned within the home, backyard, during transitions, and while traveling in or outside your community. By integrating skills from one or more developmental domains or subject areas nannies can maximize the opportunities to promote learning.  This play can be theme related and involve one or more children.  With a focus on school readiness skills and sprinkling in high interest activities personalized to the individual charge, nannies can be creative in a structured way.  Structured play opportunities in the home might involve learning stations, table activities, shared reading, indoor or outdoor games, arts and crafts or real world skills such as cooking.  Although structured play is planned and intentional, there is no limit on creativity and flexibility while facilitating it.

Children also need opportunities to explore, make choices and participate in free play. These are just a few advantages of free play. Free play is the second type of play nannies can plan in the daily schedule. Allowing children to move from structured play to free play fosters a sense of ownership and autonomy needed to build confidence and independent thinking.

Sometimes seeing is believing.  To get more concrete evidence of how learning takes place during play, enjoy these videos from Exchange Press:

Learning Through Play 0 to 3 years old 4:09

Learning Through Play 3 to 5 years old 2:06

The children were involved in both structured play and free play.  Throughout these videos you see how the teacher, nanny or parent can use the teachable moments to embed skills and facilitate learning.  This intentionality guides children through problem solving, critical thinking, language development, and much more.  

A seasoned nanny uses teachable moments multiple times a day in many different environments. By transforming a problem into a solution, a nanny can help build confidence and critical thinking skills.  Here is a simple example:

ina dryerIn the picture, you see a 5 year old boy that has a problem.  He is wet from water play at the Science Museum.  He doesn’t like the wet feeling against his legs although he really had a great time involving his whole body in the play using funnels, hose, boats and PCP pipes to change the direction of the water by exploring cause and effect.  Now he is ready to go to lunch but is wet!  I pointed this child in the direction of the dryers and let him solve the problem.  He adjusted the nozzle to dry more than his hands and looked to me for reinforcement that he was pretty clever.  This was a teachable moment.  I could have solved his problem quickly.  However, I observed him turn on the dryers then experiment how best to get his pants dry.  He used trial and error by raising on leg at a time until finally he adjusted the nozzles on both dryers and speeded up the drying process.  Afterwards, it was great to see him beam with pride for accomplishing this task all on his own.




Angela Riggs, ECE Director
Sullivan University
INA Education Committee Chair 

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