LETTER TO THE EDITOR: A message from the Boca Grande Preschool: It’s OK to play

May 22, 2020
By Marcy Shortuse

To the Editor:

It’s Okay to Play!

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed how we are living our lives. Many families have been together at home for a couple of months with their young children, which has been quite an adjustment for all of us. The stress associated with lost jobs, reduced wages and fear of the unknown is taking its toll.

While preschool children may not fully understand a pandemic, nor the many things that we adults are worried about, young children often feel the stress and uncertainty when their adult caregivers lose their sense of safety. A feeling of safety and security is crucial to healthy development for both children and adults.

One thing families can do to reduce stress and have some fun is to take time to play together! We often consider play to be a recreational activity, in fact the online dictionary lexicon.com (Oxford Languages) defines play as “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than a serious or practical purpose,” but in early childhood play is so much more.

Children learn through play … it is that simple. Through play, preschoolers explore and discover new things; they practice and learn new skills and gain information all the time, which helps them make valuable connections within their developing brains. Play facilitates development in many areas, including physical, social and emotional, language and cognitive or critical thinking. Families can help their children learn by simply playing together.

Outdoor play, like a bike ride or on the swing set in the backyard, promotes overall health and development of muscles and coordination, as well as gross motor skills.

If you are trying to promote kindergarten readiness at home, it can be advantageous to follow your outdoor play with fine motor activities. A child who has had exercise to “shake their wiggles out” will be better equipped to sit for quieter activities. Fine motor activities develop the small muscles of the hands, required for manipulation of small objects and printing. Focus on activities that require the child to pinch with their fingers or squeeze with their hands. One good example of that is to fill an ice cube tray or muffin pan with cotton balls, and let your child use tongs or tweezers to pick up each cotton ball and release it into a plastic cup. Squeezing and rolling play dough is also a great activity to strengthen the muscles of the fingers and hands (if you are hesitant to use play dough because of the mess, consider taking it outdoors).

Children learn much about social interaction from their peers and teachers at preschool. Social distancing can make it next to impossible for playdates with other children, and while it is recommended to keep screen time to a minimum, letting little ones watching a high-quality television program developed for children, like “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” on PBS, can provide opportunities for families to identify and discuss feelings together. As you watch, ask your child how they think the characters are feeling. Model active listening as your child answers, make eye contact and re-state often, using proper speech. You will help to build vocabulary and learn a little something about how your child perceives the world around them!

After spending so much time together, I am certain that most parents, guardians, and other adult caregivers have been asked the question “Why?” by their young children more times that they care to count.  It is amazing how one word can strike fear in your heart. I know it can be very frustrating to answer a child’s “Why?” question, only to be asked again and again, in what can seem to be a never-ending loop! It may be helpful to remember that questioning is an integral part of the learning process. It is how people of all ages seek out and learn new information. When you provide thoughtful answers, you are facilitating learning. Cognitive, or critical-thinking, skills are how young children figure out the world they live in.

Families can also foster cognitive skills by asking children questions – ask your child “why” questions, but try to ask your questions using complete sentences to model and promote language development.

Finally, one of the most important things you can do for your child is to read aloud to them each and every day!  At the Boca Grande Preschool we have partnered with the national campaign “Read Aloud 15 Minutes” (readaloud.org) to encourage our families to recognize the benefits of reading aloud to their children for 15 minutes each day.

Reading to your child can be fun for the whole family. Adults and older children can take turns reading to preschoolers using silly voices for the characters, and young children can play along using toys as props or drawing with markers. Read a variety of books, including fiction and non-fiction; show your child that reading gives them the power to learn and inspire a love of learning which will last a lifetime!

Don’t forget to wash your hands and stay safe, play often!

Kimi Harms

Director, Boca Grande Preschool