by Alix Tonsgard

We usually discuss different ideas of activities to do and ways to play with your children, but now I want to talk about taking time to sit back and watch. Next time you get down on the floor to play with your child, spend some time sitting and observing them. Observation is a powerful tool that can reveal information we may not have known before.

When we take the time to observe children during play, we gain understanding about who they are and what they can do. Observation is the first method of facilitation recommended for Museum Play Facilitator staff and volunteers who interact with our visitors. Watching and listening allow facilitators to take their cues from what they see and hear children doing before deciding whether to join in an interaction. It gives the facilitator pause to reflect on what the child’s play agenda is before interacting with the child.

In their book, Focused Observations: How to Observe Children for Assessment and Curriculum Planning, Gaye Gronlund and Marlyn James discuss the fact that “through their play and use of materials, children often show you what information and knowledge they are figuring out and what skills they are working on.” Whether you are a caregiver or parent, discovering what children can do or what they know about their world is useful information for understanding and planning for their learning needs.

So what does this mean for you at home? As I suggested, spend some time observing your children play. As you observe, think about ways that you could make something they seem really interested in slightly more challenging or how you could support them in mastering something that seems a little too difficult. Maybe you have a little one obsessed with crashing cars. The next time they are playing with cars try suggesting that you build a ramp. After letting them experiment with the ramp, propose an experiment – “do you think that the blue car will go faster than the red car?” A little time spent watching will help you enhance your ability to support your children learning through play.

If you try something new I would love to hear about it. Share your success stories with us on Facebook!

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