Karen Deerwester Q&A
Creative PlayQuestion: I have a 16-month old and would like some advice on how to "play" with her. I am a stay at home mom so I try to balance house work with playing with my daughter, but the playing part does not come easily - I find myself getting almost bored, and then I feel guilty that I am not doing all that I can for her. So we both end up getting a little frustrated. Any thoughts? Thanks.
Answer: The secret to successful "play" is to really be "in the moment" with your daughter. As the commercial says, "there are no rules"! Toddler play is open-ended and child-directed. In play, children build knowledge about themselves, other people, and the world. As you experiment with different activities, I'm certain you will hit upon the ones that fit your style and the interests of your daughter. But remember, there are many ways to support your daughter's play without you always being hands-on.
Before searching for new activities, start with what you're already doing in the house. Your daughter will thoroughly enjoy "working" side by side with you - give her a feather duster of her own to dust things, a spray bottle with water to clean mirrors or bathroom tile, a short broom and a dust pan, and, best of all, some Tupperware and a dish pan of soapy water/sponges with lots of towels. Give her magazines to read and mail to open (talk about the pictures, the shapes, the stamps). Let her pour and mix textures in different sized containers (dry oatmeal, cheerios, uncooked rice, flour, and cornmeal). Let her paint the shower walls with brushes and shaving cream. Your role is to create experiences to inspire her curiosity and her sense of wonder. Everything is new to her - help her to "see" objects, patterns, colors, textures, and connections. Give her the words to describe these new wonders. Watch her interactions with different materials and her investigation of potential problems to solve. Then, stretch the moment by asking a question or adding a new element. With the right "stuff", your daughter's imagination will soar and lead you with her enthusiasm.
Next, get outside! My favorite educator, Bev Bos, says there is nothing that children can learn better inside than outside. Imagine food coloring and water in those spray bottles with snow as the art canvas! Or collecting twigs in your daughter's very own nature basket. Children are first time explorers. Let your daughter discover the seasons first hand as a first-rate scientist - observing, questioning, and discovering. This is a perfect age because she is mobile and tuning into language.
You will find a large selection of activity books at your local bookstore. Gymboree has a new activity book for parents, as does Mr. Rogers. Two of my favorites are 300 Three Minute Games by Jackie Silberg and Things to Do with Toddlers and Twos. by Karen Miller (who I also believe has a new book for parents). Browse the shelves when you need extra ideas but only buy the books that inspire you. You don't want it to be a chore.
What about toys? Toys certainly are not essential to play. The boxes, toilet paper tubes, and found objects usually win a child's attention for the most sustained time. But, at 16 months, I do recommend slides/climbers, swings, riding toys, lots of balls, toy instruments, puzzles, pretend play props like kitchens and workbenches, hand-held cars, and art materials like paints/easels, play dough, and chalk. You won't be bored if you let go of all expectations and trust that your daughter is the professional here. Follow her curiosity. It has no limits!
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.