Leading child development and play expert, Dr Amanda Gummer advocates the introduction of play to areas outside of the playground, thanks to its proven impact on cognitive development.
She comments ‘by disguising a lesson in play, children have fun as well as learn. They relax and become more open to talking about what they think and how they feel. This trick can be a useful tool for parents and teachers as it’s easier to properly engage a child with a subject that might have been difficult to discuss, were it not for the playful distraction.’
Dr Gummer applauds this use of popular culture in a non-traditional environment and advises that parents who feel nervous about approaching difficult topics with children can easily apply playful tactics at home, helping to build on their child’s emotional resilience over the summer and enabling them to think more critically.
1) Spark an enthusiasm for learning with fun educational activities
The summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to really get children enthusiastic about learning with fun, hands-on activities. For instance, they can practice maths by helping out at a car boot sale with the money, have a go at some amazing experiments with science kits or tell stories by creating their own characters.
2) Engage with videogames
It’s helpful to meet children where they are, in order to take them where you want them to be. Video games are very popular with kids and the right ones can encourage critical thinking and discussion around an array of topics. For instance, the characters and their stories in the popular Nintendo 3DS game based on Japanese Folklore, YO-KAI WATCH® offers an imaginative platform to talk about real-life issues, such as falling out with friends or bullying – issues which often crop up during long school holidays.
3) Encourage playing together
Group games are brilliant for getting family and friends to play together, while helping children learn to think strategically, plan ahead, and work with others. There are many board and card games that also support key educational topics like maths so you can be confident that kids are learning whilst enjoying themselves.
4) Mix and match playmates
A good mix between playing with friends and family gives children the chance to expand their social skills, build relationships, and share knowledge. An older sibling can sometimes explain a topic to a younger sibling in a better way than a parent or teacher, it feels more playful, and at the same time this is reinforcing their own understanding.
5) Don’t forbid screen time
There’s no reason why children can’t enjoy some screen time, it’s just important to select video games that captivate them as well as support learning and development. This will help them to think imaginatively and creatively. Brands such as Nintendo offer a variety of games that will make your kids think and apply their brains, such as Disney Art Academy which helps teach children how to create their own art or Teddy Together which teaches them about friendship through the guide of a cuddly teddy bear and encourages children to practise their reading, spelling and interpersonal skills. They will feel like they are being given a treat but will be learning at the same time.
6) Allow time for unstructured play
It’s important for children to be in control of at least some of their play, so remember to schedule in time where they can play freely. This allows them to explore their own ideas and build on things they have learned, at their own pace. Building a den, for example, is an exciting way for children to explore the outdoors, harness their imagination and learn to solve problems.
7) Use children’s interests to grab their attention
These few weeks will give children a chance to explore their own interests. Parents can use something a child is big on right now, such as a particular cartoon or game character, to make all sorts of subjects more appealing and really tailor the learning to the child’s individual interests. For example, if a child likes superheroes, parents might get them to write a story about the character to encourage writing skills.
8) Take them out for a breath of fresh air
Rain or shine, outdoor play has many advantages to a child’s development. It’s a great source of exercise, a chance for children to master physical skills, and offers a fascinating world for exploring and imaginative play. Going down the park can be a pain for parents, who end up standing around cold and bored while their children play; we suggest arranging play dates so that parents have someone to talk to and children get the added benefits of mixing with other children.
9) Boredom is good
Parents needn’t feel that children need entertaining every minute of the holidays, because children are perfectly capable of coming up with their own activities and this is actually really good for their development. It encourages children to think for themselves, supporting decision-making and independence, and can stimulate their creativity.
10) Use this opportunity to practice life skills
Life skills are vital, but unfortunately they aren’t always covered in school. So now is the ideal time for parents to get children to help plan and cook meals, clean the house, and generally get their heads around all the chores they will need to survive as adults. Of course they will still need plenty of time to play, but a good work ethic is a valuable thing to instil into a child, just make it fun, for example by bringing in songs and rhymes.