My favourite post of all time has to be The Day We Did Nothing – because I love realising that learning doesn’t have to be hard work for me or the children – in fact, they never stop learning as we go about our daily lives. Playful learning doesn’t have to be structured – in fact the best times can be spontaneous and relaxed. Just spending time together is building family relationships and happy children, which is every bit as important as learning to read.
Today the children and I all felt the need for some “down time”. You would be forgiven from reading this blog for thinking that our lives are jam-packed with crafts, baking and days out – we do plenty of those things and we love it – but I believe that children need unstructured time too, and this is when they out into practise the skills they have learnt, process the events of their little lives, develop their social skills without coaching from an adult – and so many things that are just as important to their development as anything else we do together.
So this morning we watched a film together, then all three spent time playing with their toys. L and N played a fantastic game involving lots of different animals, and made good use of their dressing up box. Their whole morning was free play, followed by a picnic lunch on the living room floor – and in the afternoon we got out the board games.
We love board games. And they exist to prove that playful learning doesn’t have to be high maintenance. Sitting down together, the children had my time and attention, and someone else had done the creative thinking and careful planning, so all I had to do was relax and play!
We played Junior Scrabble, Jenga, and Guess Who.
Scrabble these days has two levels for juniors. Level one is a simple matter of matching letters, and N (3) is a whizz at it. Whilst L (5) doesn’t seem to have the concept of a strategy yet, N plans her next move carefully and strategically, and L is learning from his sister. So in playing scrabble, they are not only learning letter recognition, but a whole range of other skills – turn taking, planning, deferred gratification, and second-guessing what other players might do next. This is why N is at the moment a better player, even though L can read! Level 2 requires players to form their own words – L can do this but N needs to work with a partner. The main stumbling block for L has been learning to read the words going down the board – the “wrong” way. But after having played a few times, he is getting quite good at unscrambling his letters to make a word, and by joining in and watching, N is understanding how words are made in preparation for reading and writing.
F wasn’t upset not to be able to play the game – since we were all sitting down on the floor at her level, talking to her, she felt included and not left out. She played with plastic letters – interesting shapes and textures for her to explore, but also alongside daily stories it should hopefully help her to be familiar with the shape and appearance of letters, and make them a part of her life, even whilst she is far too little to read.
I apologise for the poor quality photos in this post – taken on my phone in a room with poor lighting.
We were given this for Christmas, which I was very excited about as I’d wanted to get it for the children. It is just great on so many levels. Even building the tower requires co-ordination, care, fine motor skills, and following an alternating pattern (a pre-maths activity).
The other thing I love about Jenga is that it forces L and N to slow down in order to win. It rewards care and attention, whilst still being fun. Slowing things down without telling the children off for being bositerous is brilliant!
This is a game that L is better at, being older and having more refined motor skills. But N makes up for it with effort, and practise is definitely the way forward in learning and development, which is why I tend to take the age guidelines on a game with a pinch of salt. As long as it isn;t so beyond their reach that they become bored, frustrated or demoralised, I think underestimatin g them does more harm than letting them have a go. Equally, they can often benefit from a toy that could be considered too young, by using it in an unexpected and creative way.
The friends who gave us jenga were thoughtful enough to include F by buying her stacking cups to go with the Jenga, so she played with those, although she did also want to explore the wooden blocks!
Guess Who? just proves my point about the age guidelines. N plays it brilliantly. Both L and N love this game, and it encopurages observation skills, reasoning, early maths (sorting into categories) and also social skills and particularly differentiating their own perspective from others’.
It always reassures me to remind myself of the benefits of what I’d think of as a lazy day – and how much the children are learning even while they are relaxing.