Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Traditional Educational Play Isn’t Interesting

Nanny Confessions
by Elizabeth Hawksworth
What are Your Favorite Ways to Help Children Learn and Grow?

Whenever I look at ads for nanny jobs one of the main job duties listed is “educational play.” Traditionally, this means spending time with children working on writing and reading using electronic LeapPads or tablets, doing mathematical worksheets, using flash cards, or playing board games that are meant to increase literacy. I understand the importance of doing these activities. Kids who practice reading, writing, and arithmetic skills at home often do better in school.

But, doing worksheets and repeating facts by rote isn’t fun -- that is homework. Electronic games that only have a few decision paths and outcomes leave children cold after awhile. And board games, while fun for a rainy day, are definitely not exciting when there’s a park to get to, museum or zoo to visit, or a pool to swim in.

Educational play needs to be fun otherwise kids don't want to do it and frankly, I don’t really find it interesting either.

Children learn through interacting, exploring, playing, and telling stories. It’s easy to incorporate math into their daily lives by tracking sports statistics and using cooking measurements. I enjoy taking children to the store and letting them count apples, weigh produce, and count money. I am happy to read the newspaper with children. It is fun going to the library and allowing kids to pick out all the books they like -- even comic books which help children love reading. Having children write a story or act out a play helps teach sequential events and the importance of detail and continuity. Children who want to play a drawing game or card game are learning mathematical and geometric skills.

For younger kids, stacking blocks and sorting teaches spatial awareness. Listening to an adult sing, talk, or read a book aloud helps children learn language and vocabulary. Dressing up and role play teaches social skills and creativity. Painting, drawing, scribbling, and even writing those first wobbly letters to Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny teaches fine motor skills and allows kids to practice the skills they learn in school.

Educational play is absolutely important, but the best educational play is spontaneous, fun, and child-led. Children who receive one-on-one attention are already learning constantly, and that’s one of my favorite things -- to watch children play, learn, and grow. I completely support educational play, but the best educational play happens out of the box!

What are your favorite ways to help children learn and grow?

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