Having been a physical education teacher for many years and a father to 3 wonderfully active sons, playing with my boys happen so naturally. As soon as they were born, I was constantly looking for ways to stimulate their senses through play. This started first by introducing them to a variety of play objects to gradually encouraging them to explore the world around them and develop their fundamental movement skills.
Play, whether through the child’s own free play or one that is more deliberately engineered, seems to evolve without needing much effort and persuasion. Yet, many parents seem to be rather unaware or under-utilising the value of child’s play particularly in terms of communication. Some parents unwarily relinquish these valuable playtime opportunities with their children to others such as a nanny or an after-school program without having their own precious communication time through play.
As my children move through the various stages of development, I realise the best time to communicate with them is through their playtime; whether it was to teach them social skills like sharing their toys with their playmates or to teach them to listen to instructions and to abide by rules. There were ample opportunities for concomitant learning through play and frankly, it became rather interesting to explore ways of creating these opportunities especially when trying to relate play situations with life lessons.
Communication during the early years was made relatively easy as play is seen by both the children and parents as a necessary, recreational activity and mostly associated with fun. Subtle communication to your children during these playtimes can be quite readily received and learning becomes more positive. I tend though to allocate similar period of the day or week for my children’s playtime so they do not assume playtime to be all day long and are not able to focus on other activities. Young children tend to look to the parents to model their behaviour and will generally listen to instructions on how to behave and play with their friends or siblings.
Interestingly, as my children grew up, I realise that my expectations started to change and what was such an easy channel for communication and bonding time became at times rather tense. Fortunately for me, my children were open enough to reveal to me the reason after one of the play sessions. They felt the sessions were starting to become less spontaneous and fun as, unwittingly, I was becoming more and more anxious to teach them the sports skills and the intricacies of the game. Inevitably the communication through play became more intense about skill and fault correction. I treasure my communication through these play sessions as they have definitely helped to bring me closer to my children. The play session have allowed me to teach my children values, good social behaviour and opportunity to develop their character.
At this point, I should also highlight that all my children are actively involved with individual sports at school representation level and as such, I made a deliberate attempt in getting them to play a team sport which happened to be street soccer. We are fortunate that we have a regular weekend group comprising of like-minded parents and their children. I feel it is important that children should be exposed to a team setting so that they learn to practise their social and cooperative skills. This may be even more essential and applicable for those parents of a single child.
So, the next time your child plays, I will encourage you to get yourself actively involve and to use this invaluable situation to communicate better with your child.