Playing WITH Children

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Young children are capable learners and at SEEC, we have strong beliefs about young children and how they learn best. One belief is that adults should play with children, be silly, sing, have fun, and get dirty. While we recognize and value the benefits of child play without adult involvement, we see many benefits for both adults and children when grown-ups join in the fun.

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Adults need to play too! While society tends to view play as a pastime exclusive to childhood, research has shown that adults need to play  in order to maintain a joyful and healthy life. Play, whether it be participating in a kickball league, painting, or engaging in improv theater, maintains cognitive skills, strengthens relationships, and reduces stress. Stuart Brown, physician and founder of the National Institute for Play, feels that play is essential and recommends building playtime into our everyday lives to avoid feeling stuck and stressed. Innovative companies are even bringing play into their work spaces. For example, Tim Brown, CEO of design firm, IDEO, incorporates a preschool-like play setting that allows employees to innovate new, creative solutions through play. At SEEC, we feel similarly, which is why we use play to teach concepts at our educator workshops. Not only is it engaging, and fun, but it builds community among educators, and provides practical applications that can be used in the classroom.

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Playing with children not only provides benefits to adults, but children as well. When an adult chooses to participate in a child’s play, they are sending a powerful message that what the child is doing is valuable, and their learning is important. Plus, playing with children builds strong relationships, whether that be a teacher-child or caregiver-child relationship. Not sure where to start? Try simply asking, “Can I play with you?” Generally, children will be more than willing to invite you in and tell you how you can be involved!

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When adults play with children, they become models of social emotional skills. They are able to model being a graceful winner or loser in competitive games, demonstrate teamwork, and  show children how to navigate social interactions. For example, “I see that Adam is a pirate too, can we make room for him on the ship?” or “Roberta, it looks like you’d like to play! We’re building an ice cream parlor, what would you like to do?”

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Adults also have the ability to open other avenues of thinking and inquiry through play that children might not think of on their own. For example, if the children are pretending to sail on a boat, asking, “Where are you going?” or “What will you do when you get there?” helps children expand their thinking and possibilities for their play. Vivian Gussin Paley, noted play theorist, believes in the power of an adult to help make connections for children that they might have otherwise missed. She likens the adult’s role to a Greek Chorus, commenting on or repeating what players have said. For example, “I heard Sally say that the baby is crying. How do you think we can make the baby feel better?”

Have we convinced you of the benefits of play as an adult? Would you like to come and PLAY with our SEEC team at the Smithsonian while thinking more about play in the community with young children? Join us for our Play in the Community seminar on May 6 & 7. Learn more and register.