Play & Positive Experiences: Keys to Children’s Developing Minds

Much of today’s parenting advice often focuses on achievement—what your child learns and how quickly she does it—as a way to ensure a successful life. As a result, such advice can cause parents to feel pressure to help their child “succeed.” As early as infancy, parents are keenly aware of milestones like rolling over, smiling, and taking first steps. When children enter preschool, the demands continue as there can be an intense focus on “preparing” children for Kindergarten. From there, this pressure to achieve can carry on throughout a child’s academic life.

While the concept of helping children to achieve milestones earlier and faster may seem logical, this approach can have the opposite effect and instead obstruct children’s desire to learn and even disrupt their social development. Instead of putting children’s development on a timetable, recent research suggests that giving a child freedom to explore his world through play and experience healthy relationships and environments are the catalyst for success.

Unstructured Play

With the abundance of child classes available it is tempting for parents to want to enroll their children in many activities. However, the structure of some of these classes is not well-suited for children of certain ages. For example, classes that require toddlers to “play together,” “share,” or have “directed learning” work against a child’s development and interfere with her natural desire to explore her world. It is developmentally normal for toddlers to want what they want when they want it and to express independent thinking. When young children are expected to act older than they are capable of, it creates tension and unhappiness which interfere with learning. Instead, when children are given the space and freedom to explore and discover their world on their own timetable, then a love of learning is nurtured.

When children play, they make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math, learn how to interact with others, and how to work through and manage their emotions. Play is fun, interesting, and intrinsic to childhood. And when play is incorporated into a school setting, it makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time.

Positive Experiences

Smart Love explains that a learning environment that revolves around meeting children where they are in their development and responding in a way that’s appropriate helps ensure that children view learning as a positive, enjoyable activity inside a classroom and out.

In the process of “teaching” our children, we may focus on them learning specific facts or concepts, and then testing them to see if they are making progress. What parent hasn’t peppered their child with questions like: