Some mornings just start out great! Every school morning, I get to see three very precocious children and watch them process the world through their young eyes. Everything is new and learning is fun. They don’t know as I watch them playing cards with their Grandma that they are working on their communication as we make a game of saying fun words like “pygmy marmoset” or “red eyed tree frog” and laugh. They don’t know that they are building their vocabulary as they name animals that you don’t often discuss in real life but are on the cards like coati, puma, or aardvark. They don’t know that they are learning colors, letters or shapes when we talk about the colors of the animals or the shapes of their noses or ears, or how you spell their names. They don’t know they are working on counting skills as we count the number of cards that they have won. This isn’t learning to them. This is playing.
Some mornings they play “pick-up sticks” or dominoes, great games for fine motor control, colors, counting and ancillary skills such as turn taking and conversing about what they see happening. Some mornings they color pictures and I have watched, since September, as they have improved in their ability to control the crayons or markers, remaining in borders, using a three point grasp, and all the other developmentally relevant things that happen as they are working. Some mornings Grandma reads a book to them and they learn the art of paying attention while they regulate their behavior to “listen”. But again, these children don’t know they are learning, they think they are playing.
The most interesting part of this daily event is that it only lasts about fifteen minutes. All of these wonderful things are happening in a mere fifteen minutes or so each morning in three short months. Each has learned how to play several card games. Each has learned how to play dominoes and pick-up sticks. Each has improved in fine motor control. And this isn’t even counting the mornings they just play with stuffed animals or airplanes, creating ramps out of door stoppers for takeoff.
We can all create these situations for our children. It doesn’t take a lot of time or a lot of money. It doesn’t take the newest electronic gadgets or the fanciest games. It just takes us being there and interacting; talking and listening; playing with our children. An anonymous quote sums it up quite nicely “We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing”.
Mary Rockey, Ph.D., BCBA is the Director of Pupil Service at Randolph Central School.