Children only have one chance at childhood. It's brief. It's precious. It's fleeting. As a preschool teacher, I have noticed an odd and disturbing trend...children don't know how to play. In the past few years, my students (3 to 5 year olds) have come into my preschool room, bursting with toy filled play centers; and wander around in a confused fashion. My co-teachers have noticed this same behavior. It is as if we need to teach these young children how to play! It takes a few weeks for the children to rekindle their curiosity and delve into building with blocks, caring for the baby dolls, and putting on the dress up clothes. We gently demonstrate, participate and encourage pretend play. And once they understand the concept of free choice playtime, they look forward to that part of our day above all others.
What has changed? Why are we seeing children who need instructions on how to use their imagination and play with simple toys? This is a new trend. I have taught many years and would say that this has occurred in the beginning of the year during my last three years of teaching. I admit this evidence is experiential and anecdotal. But it has been confirmed by other experienced preschool teachers. So what gives? My only guess is that electronic devises have pushed real hands on playtime to the side in these young children's lives.
The holidays give parents an opportunity to encourage the very thing that enriches childhood, PLAY. As a preschool teacher, I am pleading with all of you gift givers...use your money to purchase gifts that will enrich your children's childhood experiences; gifts that encourage imagination, problem solving, interaction, and real world experiences. Here are my suggestions:
- Blocks, Puzzles and Building Sets: encourage creativity and spacial awareness.
- Props for Pretend Play: dress up clothes, dolls, toy cars, plastic food, doctor kits, doll houses, farm sets, and stuffed animals all foster and encourage pretend play.
- Books: fill their minds with rich vocabulary and beautiful illustrations to capture their imagination.
- Art Supplies: unlock creativity through crayons, markers, clay, stickers and stamps for crafting artwork together or independently
- Board games: teach important social skills and often times foster counting and number recognition. Be sure to choose games that you will enjoy playing with them, otherwise they will just gather dust on a shelf.
This list includes the toys that preschool children gravitate towards in my classroom. Give the special children in your life real world toys that encourage them to use their imaginations and teach them the joy of childhood play.
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