Ready, Set, Present!

young expo

Two more days until the annual Young Child Expo and Conference in NYC. I am excited to present this year with my colleague on “Play in Early Childhood Settings: An Antidote to Technology Overload.”

We will be speaking about the negative impact that too much screen time and academic pressure has on kids and how child centered play techniques is a valuable tool to help kids in classroom settings and at home.

I am a bit nervous but still feel confident that we will knock it out of the park!

If you are interested in attending, click here to register.






The Puzzler

Puzzler 2

Guest Post from Emily Mullen, CCLS 

After breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning, I opened up a new toddler puzzle leftover from Christmas. My 2 ½ year old son was thrilled to see this new play item before him. He already understood the link-pieces-together concept of puzzles from watching me in the past and immediately zoned in with intent. His toddler instinct to imitate was in full force. With a smile on his face he used phrases like “oh this one goes here” and “oh maybe not” and “there it goes!” He picked up piece after piece linking them together, rotating them and moving them to new spots.

As I sat with him, in awe of his focus and determination, I decided to put “teaching” aside for the moment to let him work. I resisted the urge to reach for puzzle pieces, but gladly accepted those that he handed to me. I kept myself from offering suggestions or redirecting his behavior while he played. Instead, I described my observations of his play (“You found a spot for the frog piece!”) and made statements that reflected the content of his own comments (“You’re looking for a new spot for that one.”)

We soon found ourselves deep in the midst of a child-directed play session. He had the steering wheel, and I was enjoying the ride. After a short while he had his own finished product. With a smile from ear to ear he exclaimed, “Mom look! There’s there puzzle!”

A quick glance at the photograph below is enough to see that the arrangement of puzzle pieces did not match the product’s intended image. Yet my son applauded his efforts and walked away with an obvious sense of accomplishment. In this morning’s moments of toddler play, he decided the goal was simply giving each puzzle piece a home. (As he had previously observed the purpose of a puzzle to be!) He chose his goal, and directed his behavior accordingly. As a result, he left the play experience with increased confidence to face a challenge and practice in problem solving (for example, rotate a puzzle piece until it fit).

We will find many moments for “adult directed” learning experiences; my son has plenty of opportunity to follow instructions from me all day. On this Sunday morning, though, he learned important skills to apply to any future challenge – adult or child driven. So we ended our puzzle play and celebrated his way because as my son proclaimed, “ There’s the puzzle!”

Engaging in child-directed playtime can have great benefits for children’s development. As children grow they follow constant instructions from adults to guide their learning of basic skills (how to brush teeth, how to wash hands), basic knowledge (counting, colors, shapes) and basic cultural behavior (saying please and thank you, using indoor voices). Providing children with safe opportunities to be in control of play allows them time to think about how the world works, explore their own ideas, and experience self-discovery.

More About the Author:

Emily is a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) and full-time mom to a wonderful 2 ½ year old boy. Her educational background includes a B.A. in Psychology from Stonehill College in Easton, MA and an M.S. in Therapeutic Recreation with a Child Life concentration from Springfield College in Springfield, MA . She worked full-time teaching Therapeutic Recreation and Child Life courses at Springfield College through the summer of 2012 when her son was born. She has recently returned to Springfield College as adjunct faculty. She additionally worked in the field as a CCLS at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, CT for 4 years.

Just Stop and Play

connecting through play

“Mom, play with me!”

How could I resist this request from my adorable 5-year-old?

I paused all my mommy duties of cleaning my disastrous house, responding to emails, doing laundry and getting things sorted for the evening.

We sat down together, where I gave Gavin just what he wanted, one on one time.

I used a child centered play technique that is often used by child life specialists and one that I co-teach at Bank Street College. It is letting the child lead the play, without judgement, expectations and limits. Kids can play with open-ended toys and begin to really get deep in their play with the adult mirroring and validating them. It’s a wonderful way to help build a child’s self-confidence, resolve inner-conflict, express themselves, and at the same time it is strengthening the emotional relationship with the child and adult.

Twenty minutes of this type of play, brought us back together.

All the feelings of frustration from getting out the door this morning melted away.

You know the madness; yelling to get dressed, to stop teasing your sibling, to hurry up, put your listening ears on and threats of losing Minecraft time. Those everyday, crazy parenting mornings, all flushed away from both of us.

There were no distractions, just he and I. It was the best twenty minutes of our day.

Would you be up to trying this out with your kids?

Related Articles

Explore Through Play: Scavenger Hunt

Learning Through Play

Child Centered Play DVD Preview