Children naturally engage in play and, although it may not look like it, they are constantly learning as they do. The Montessori Method considers play to be a child’s work. Allowing children to learn through play or self-directed activities gives them the opportunity to experience new things authentically and organically. In doing so, they navigate their world using critical thinking and creativity as they solve problems along the way. These are important skills that will set children up for success in school and beyond.
Often, we think children need structured activities to learn some of those academic or kindergarten readiness skills such as phonics, reading, writing, numbers, or colors. However, it’s important to remember that learning doesn’t have to be a structured activity. In fact, it’s better if it’s not!
Open-ended exploration gives children the opportunity to see the world through their own lens. There are also many ways to incorporate these experiences into everyday tasks or daily routines.
Try these ideas:
- While cooking, encourage your child to participate by setting the table, folding napkins, helping you count the carrots, or even acting as your sous chef to measure, peel, and chop. While it may mean a little extra mess, it will engage your child’s attention and senses, including self-worth as they contribute to the family meal. What may seem like “mundane work” for us, is actually authentic play and “meaningful development work” for the child.
- At the grocery store, play “I spy” with your child. Have them guess what item you’re thinking of by describing different characteristics. This is a great way to support children as they learn colors, shapes, adjectives, and much more.
- While doing laundry, have children sound out the first letter of each item or clap out syllables as you transfer clothing into the dryer. This is a great way to incorporate phonics into a common chore. And don’t forget, folding the items together is not only a great practical life skill but also an introduction to early mathematics and geometry! “First, we fold the shirt in half and match the edges…”
- In the car, have your child look for the numbers 1 through 10 on signs and billboards. See if they can identify them all in order by the time you get to your destination. Or play a game and see how high you can count by each person taking a number. “I say one, you say two, then I say three…”
- During transitions, ask children to pick an animal they would like to be. Encourage them to move like that animal as they get from point A to point B. This is a fun way to support your child’s gross motor development and a great way to build creativity and imagination!
Not only does open-ended play and exploration support academic learning, but it also creates healthy social-emotional skills. These skills are just as important as academics. As children participate in these activities, they learn to self-regulate, share, and work through conflicts.
Regardless of the type of learning, something to always remember is that children learn best when they are engaged and interested in the experience. Turning daily experiences into fun, playful activities will support your child’s development in all domains.