Following Your Child’s Lead
What does it mean to follow your child’s lead when engaging in play?
Although the concept is easy to understand, the practical application is difficult. We have many “schemas” or play plans already completed in our minds. We know what we can do with Legos or blocks or how to place the animals in the zoo or barn. We have had past experience with these toys and feel competent at completing our game plan. Our children however, still enjoy experimenting and randomly placing a variety of toys in many different areas and seeing how it looks or feels. When we interfere with this experimentation the child looses his motivation and creativity. In other words, we spoil their fun. Do that too many times and they don’t want to play with you or worse, they think YOUR way is the only way.
When playing with your child, allow them to begin the sequence of play and then follow what they have started, add language or a movement, but don’t change the plan or move from the original idea even if it doesn’t fit with your comfort zone. Jean Piaget, child psychologist, reminds us that children 0-2 are in the sensorimotor stage and learn by physically exploring their environment. Later when the child is 2-3 he enters the preoperational stage that Piaget explains is characterized by the use of symbols. A block may become a remote control or a telephone and a box may become a spaceship or train. Parents need to stand back and observe what type of play their child is engaged in and enter it cautiously. Many of our children who have disability or delay, have trouble with functional play, so observing what they enjoy or how the explore will help you shape the environment and build on what motivates them. Look through the eyes of your child then get down and play! If a child is building a block tower and then knocks it down over and over again for the pleasure of that experience; let them. If after a time you want to add to that experience, add a animal that sits atop the tower or use that animal to knock down a tower. You can also comment on what he is doing or ask questions to illicit language and help him decide on the next action. As a parent you can learn a lot from your child’s play. When he is learning about the world around him you are learning about how your child interacts with the world.
Following your Child’s Lead in Play Includes:
- Standing back and observing the play
- Entering it by imitating your child’s actions or adding just one other idea into the play
- Commenting or offering words to use as the play unfolds
- Putting yourself into your child’s perspective and “see” their play as they do
- Accepting their play, and shaping the environment to encourage development.