Making sense of play
Recognising patterns of play to help support your child’s natural growth and development
The fascinating thing about having three boys is how completely and utterly different they are to each other. From their varied interests and differing physical abilities, to the things they enjoy doing, each one is unique in how they play and what they choose to play. This, I have come to realise, isn’t just our family, but is experienced by most families of two or more children - whether they are all the same gender or mixed. There’s no prescribed ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to how our kids play and what they like to do.
My eldest son has a natural physical ability, which meant he could ride a bike just after turning three and skateboard well at four-years old. Because of this, he spent most of his preschool years outside playing. Meanwhile, my middle boy is more creative, and preferred to draw, cook and build things like huts and other creations.
The inclination to play with certain things and in certain ways occurred naturally in each of my boys, and was a clear reminder that play really is a way they explore, discover, and learn about the world around them. As parents, recognising and understanding how children play helps us to support them and their development. It also helps to eliminate the confusion - and sometimes frustration - we may feel about the way our children play. For example, when they insist on getting more paint on themselves than on the paper, or throwing anything and everything they can get their hands on!
The benefits of free, child-led play in a child’s development are numerous. When a child is able to choose what they play it helps to support their natural way of learning. I must admit I occasionally still try to force my kids to play the same thing, as there’s nothing sweeter than watching siblings enjoying each others’ company. However, this usually works only if they have instigated it themselves or if I’m involved in the game.
Parents play a vital role in our children’s free play. Our job isn’t to take over by trying to give kids an example of what should happen or by directing the play. Our job is to observe and participate as instructed. You may have experienced this when your child asks you to play mums and dads or have a tea party. Even though it’s clear that you’re experienced in both of these tasks, the child is happy to take the lead and give you instructions on how they want it to go.
As parents, we can also support play and learning by recognising the patterns of play that are occurring and possibly add to the play experience. This can help us to recognise that when a child wants to throw things for example, they’re not being naughty, but instead, may be exploring disconnecting and trajectory play patterns and making sense of movement.
Before you get too overwhelmed trying to figure out your child’s patterns of play – check out Clever Play and take the Clever Play quiz! This will help you to recognise patterns in your children’s free play and gives examples of things a child might enjoy doing or playing with based on their identified play patterns. Clever Play is inspired by a book called Getting Started with Schemas - Revealing the Wonder-full World of Children's Play, by Nikolien van Wijk, a great read if you are wanting a more in-depth look into how and why children play.
The following play patterns are some of the more common patterns that can be seen in the way children play.
Transporting - Children with an interest in Transporting, love to move things from one place to another.
Trajectory - Children learning through Trajectory patterns of play have a fascination with things that move through space.
Transforming - Children exploring Transforming, love to watch things change colour, take different shapes or otherwise change. This pattern of play lends itself to indoor play really well.
Enclosing/Enveloping - Children with Enclosing/Enveloping urges tend to build structures or cover things with different materials to form boundaries and enclosures.
Connecting/Disconnecting - This pattern of play is pretty self-explanatory and works well indoors.
Ordering - Children with Ordering fascinations love to arrange toys, objects, food, etc by size, shape, theme or colour.
Rotation - Children exploring Rotation, show a strong interest in anything that turns, twists, spins, or is circular or curved.
For more information and some handy hints on different games and activities you can do with your children go to www.cleverplay.co.nz