by Alix Tonsgard

Research has demonstrated time and again that providing rich and varied play experiences for children definitively has been proven to boost children’s early learning. There certainly is an art to knowing how best to support a child’s playful learning process. As one of your child’s play partners, you may be wondering what your role is during your shared play experiences.

Most children delight in their discoveries and want to repeat or “test” their hypothesis over and over again. Sharing in your child’s discovery encourages her to keep exploring.

Here are a few more supportive ways to facilitate your child’s learning through play:

Take time to watch and listen. Before joining your child’s play with your words or actions, take time to observe how he is playing and experimenting. This is a great way to get to know your child’s interests and gain an understanding about what he is learning. You may be surprised at how competent your child is when you focus on what he is doing.

Say what you see. Instead of acknowledging with the phrase “good job,” give your child specific feedback about what she did or what happened. Acknowledgement can be a gesture, facial expression, or verbal feedback.

Extend play. Offering alternative materials or modeling a new skill are ways to initiate interaction and suggest additional possibilities, extending your child’s learning while he continues to play. Play and learn alongside of your child. Our children are always watching us. When they see you making new discoveries, you are sharing a valuable lesson – learning is a lifelong process.

Most importantly, remember to have fun and enjoy the memories!

Alix Tonsgard is an early learning specialist at the DuPage Children’s Museum.