I have been asked by our clients to share the importance of learning through play. There are plenty of articles out there explaining the direct developmental benefits and I'll attach my fave reads below. I'm going to explain my experience watching children play and how I have witnessed first-hand the developmental changes in them. To break-up the developmental domains, I'll begin with the cognitive domain. When a child is able to play, they also begin to process the experience of it. They are able to cognitively interpret their experience through the colors they see, the shapes and patterns. The more play they have, the more comfortable and experienced they become. The repetition of the toys and experience in their environment is a very valuable concept. The more exposure a child obtains to a toy, object or surrounding, the more competent and familiar they become. Once this occurs, the cognitive process or the common saying "the wheels really begin to turn" and the learning begins. It may be a quick or slow process as each child is different. The cognitive domain blossoms when a child has processed their toy, object or surrounding and can explain verbally what they are experiencing in their own words. This is a real special moment not to be missed! As an example, I have witnessed this first-hand at Wund3rKID when a member who was only a year-old played with our colorful liquid-filled shaped blocks. When she first started coming, she would just fondle with the blocks and stare at them. This was still the cognitive process at work! Once she was 1.5, she began to attempt to stack them and repeated this process over and over. When I had a chance to play with her, I would verbally say the shapes and colors during the play. She would just stare at me! Also, part of the cognitive process. Lots of eye-contact and judging looks, hehe. When she was closer to 2, I witnessed her stacking the blocks while saying the color to herself. Although it was difficult to understand which exact color she was trying to verbalize, it wasn't hard to tell she had recognized and cognitively processed the color. Amazing to watch and again, not to be missed!
Now onto the development of the physical domain through play. I've seen it occur based around our colorful dome climber. Babies just as little as 9-months will crawl around it until they are comfortable enough to crawl through it. The developmental stage which they become comfortable enough to crawl through the climber is typically closer t0 11 and 12 months.
Then once a child is comfortably walking then they will attempt to climb the structure. It is also not a moment to be missed! The progressive actions they take shows their developmental level.
They will begin by using their arms to hold their weight up and then racking one of their feet up to the bars. Even if the foot does not quite reach over the bar, this shows that physically and developmentally, they are close to exhibiting the action. When they are around 1.5, they may rack one foot up on the bar but not have the arm strength just yet to pull themselves up. This action physically occurs when they are closer to 2 and when they are 3, they can climb the whole thing!
The emotional domain is developed through daily experiences. I have seen it through children by watching their facial expressions! Yes, they are darn cute but it's also easy to tell how they are feeling through play. Playing also allows them to express themselves emotionally by displaying if the toy they have selected is of their preference or if they are not interested in it at all. The same could be said for friends. Children are more attracted to some friends than they are of others. I've mainly seen older kids ask for children they like playing with or play with each other each time at W3K. There was a core group of 4 little gals all around the same age (16 mos. - 2 years) who loved running around together. Typically, two would play with each other at one time but there were also memorable moments when they would all play together on the patio, for example. It was an interesting dynamic to watch because they would grow concerned if a one of the gals was crying or upset. They would show their concern by going over to rub their friend's back. These types of interactions allowed the children to tap into their emotional domain. Best of both worlds. I will explore this more while sharing my experience with the development of the social domain.
In my opinion, the social domain is the most perceptible. Young children as small as infants have the ability to make eye contact, smile and coo at their caregiver. It's a special moment indeed. Babbling counts too! As young toddlers begin to verbalize what they see in their environment, it is a continual step towards the development of their social domain. At Wund3rKID, the social development domain is supported daily through play and our offered classes. Children get a chance to be amongst their peers, The social domain is developed through actions such as sharing and making eye contact with their peers. The more exposure and practice they obtain, the better!
I hope I have helped those who would like to learn more on the importance, benefits and process of play in young children. It is always such a pleasure to see parents and caregivers interact with their young ones at Wund3rKID. Even if they are just sitting next to them while they play, their presence is valuable to each child's development. Play is easy and fun! It makes me feel great to know we have successfully created an environment to foster such play experiences. I will write to more articles in this series on play.
Coming up: Developmentally-appropriate toys + easy activities to replicate in your home environment
Michelle Doan is the owner of Wund3rkid in Palo Alto. Visit their website to learn more about their facility and their new preschool opening this year!