The development of play from birth to seven
Sunday, January 13, 2013
“Play is the heart of childhood, the foundation of our humanity.” So begins Chapter 4 of Heaven on Earth, the chapter on indoor play. We all know by now how essential play is for healthy brain development, healthy bodies and healthy social interactions, and much more. Sharifa begins the exploration of how to create indoor play environments that will promote purposeful play by first looking at the stages of play. Barbara Patterson also gives a lovely description of the development of children’s play in her book, Beyond the Rainbow Bridge., which I will summarize:
Play begins when children are infants. Their first toys are their hands and then their feet. Steiner also suggests a simple doll for the infant. She suggests not giving stuffed animals to infants, saying that these toys are often caricatures and when they are so young, we want them to be able to love what is most real. A toddler needs few toys and will prefer to play with what is around, like wooden spoons, pots and bowls. Toddlers like to fill and dump baskets or buckets of sand and to splash in the water—not big news here in parent child class! They also like little spaces they can crawl into. It is important to put toys away with care—toyboxes do not help to do this—rather tuck in the baby dolls into their beds and put the toys in the same place every day. From 2 1/2 to 5, play becomes more focused. Around three, the first fantasy play appears. Children can transform their environment into what they need for their world of play. They cannot separate reality and fantasy. Play for this child is very real. They can imitate easily and take in a scene as a whole picture with more accuracy than any adult could. They need toys they can transform as they play, such as shells, pine cones, wood, silk cloths. Just as the child can become anything, so can his toys become anything.
“THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.”
From Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
To enter fully into this world of play, the child needs uninterrupted time. We can create the space for this by going about our daily tasks with consciousness and joy. At this age, they may be able to clean up with you, but probably not on their own.
From 5 to 7, children’s play is more harmonious. They have usually learned to share and can concentrate for longer. They spend more time planning their play and may not even get around to actually playing it. They will start to think about what to paint rather than diving right in. At around 6, the child may say, “I’m bored.” This is the sign of a big shift—and one of the things we look for in a kindergarten child—the impetus for play shifts from the environment around them to coming from within. The feeling of boredom comes from not having yet figured out how to use this capacity. At this time, it is good to keep the child close to the adult and let them help with the work. Once they have worked through this process, they will run off to play with their friends again.
Next week we will begin to crochet!