Read to your child as much as you can! Don’t worry about reading the actual story. What is most important is the time spent with your child and the chance for them to start to fall in love with books. Point to pictures, name them, and make up a story. Make it fun and interactive: make funny faces and use your voice in interesting ways, then get your child to do the same. Have your child turn the pages; this can be a special job your child looks forward to.
Set up a play area for your child. Use bins to organize toys and books. Storage bins can also be helpful in creating a toy “rotation.” This means that there will be some toys that your child will not play with for a while, but when you bring them back, they will be exciting again! The floor is a great place to play, but if you want to, you can add a child-sized table and chairs to the play area once your child can sit independently in a chair.
Keep play time fun, and demands low. To keep play times fun, keep them short but frequent. When you play with your child, sit facing each other or beside each other so your child can see your face and actions. While playing together, try not to tell your child what to do. That can really take the fun out of the play!
Balance structured play with unstructured play. During structured play times, you lead the play. Show your child how to play with a toy. For example, if your child likes to bang two blocks together, sit beside your child, and bang two blocks together. Once you have your child’s interest, do something different with the blocks; stack them, drop them in a cup, or do anything else new and fun. Encourage your child to try to copy you. For unstructured play, follow your child’s lead and go along with the type of play he or she is doing at that time. For both types of play, talk with your child about what you are doing.
Play pretend. Provide lots of chances every day for dress up and pretend play like playing house, doctor, or restaurant. While playing, you and your child can:
- Use an object as it is supposed to be used, like feeding a doll with a spoon.
- Use an object for another purpose, like using a block as a bar of soap to bathe a doll.
- Engage in imaginary play, like pretending to pour water on a toy car to wash it.
As your child gets older, show your child how to create a story in the play. For example, pretend to go on shopping trip: get everyone ready, get in the car, drive the car up the ramp, park it in the garage, and walk to the store and pick up items.
Introduce turn-taking. Teaching how to take turns helps children learn how to wait and creates chances for your child to learn by watching what you do on your turn. Playing “Peek-a-Boo”, having tea parties, colouring, and playing catch with a ball are all great turn-taking activities. If your child has a hard time waiting, make sure your turn is short and that your actions are interesting for your child to watch. In time, increase the length of your turn to build your child’s ability to wait. You can also introduce a friend or sibling into the turn-taking play.
Let your child learn from watching you. When completing household chores, like cooking and cleaning, let your child watch you, comment on what you are doing, and then give your child a chance to help you do simple parts of the task. Give time for your child to practice and be gentle if your child makes a mistake. Show excitement about things your child can do.
Provide practice with picture and object matching. Many preschool workbooks and children’s magazines will include some of these activities. You can also create matching and sorting games with small household items. For example, start with a pile of items (big and little), then sort them into a “big” pile and a “little” pile. Then encourage your child to try. Help your child at first, and then give lots of praise when he or she puts an object in the correct pile.
Let your child make choices. There are many choice-making opportunities that happen naturally during the daily routine. For example, put out 2-3 shirts and let your child choose which one to wear. Make sure that you are happy with all of the options that you are offering.
Support the development of focused attention. With time and practice, the ability to stay on task gradually increases. To practice this skill, for 5-10 minutes at a time provide high quality “play bursts”. Schedule multiple play bursts throughout the day:
- Turn off the TV and electronics and sit on the floor (beside or in front of your child).
- Let your child choose one toy and engage your child in playing with it. If your child gets distracted, gently direct him or her back to the chosen toy. Try to make the toy really interesting and fun. Create a “back and forth” game and take turns with your child.
- Keep these play times light-hearted and fun. The goal of the play burst is to have your child start and finish a task without wandering away. Give your child lots of praise upon finishing a task, say “all done,” and then help your child put it away and choose a new activity.
Limit screen time. For children under the age of two, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends no screen time (including watching TV, and playing on tablets or cell phones). For older toddlers and preschoolers, limit screen time to less than one hour per day. Too much screen time can contribute to behaviour and sleep difficulties. Use free time for active play.
Play with others. Children learn so much by playing with other children, and it is also helpful practice for school! If your child does not attend daycare, explore programs in your area at your local library, community centre, Ontario Early Years Centre, or Parenting and Family Literacy Centre. Play dates with other children such as relatives or family friends can also be a good way to practice spending time with other children.