Play – taking pleasure in the littlest of things

I love to watch my daughter play; those golden moments when she is just fully absorbed in her own world, fixing, sorting and chatting. Her latest obsession is Sylvanian Families and she can spend a long time just placing the characters in different positions and pulling boots on and off their feet. She combines this with her love of cars so quite often the Slyvanians are visited by a whole host of cars – I’m sure they are delighted to have their country abode invaded but they keep silent on it so I’m grateful. This morning a giant Makka Pakka came to play; they are still in recovery as can be seen from the picture above.

I would love to know what goes on in my daughter’s mind while she is so busy and she looks so focused; I wish I had half her levels of concentration when I sit down to write. Of course she is a toddler so can very easily be distracted but I have noticed if she chooses to play something by herself (rather than me choosing for her) she is less easy to disturb …and forget about asking her to come to the shop or go for a walk – recipe for a meltdown!

They say the work of childhood is to play and my daughter most definitely does her work well. I know she must be learning something from all her little tasks but I couldn’t say what it is. I do feel, however, that the times she is fully absorbed are the times she is learning best and those are the times I try to be as inconspicuous as possible! Though this doesn’t always happen. She quite often wants me to watch or help or play.

She is quite sociable in her play. By that I mean she loves nothing more than to fetch her cuddly toys and have them ‘play’ with her. This involves me putting on all manner of silly voices but my tiny lady takes it all very seriously as she shows Iggle Piggle around her farmhouse or invites Makka Pakka to play cars. They are her friends to all intents and purposes. Yet she still finds it hard to interact with real-lfe children. I believe this is mainly due to the fact that Iggle Piggle and co. do everything she asks and wouldn’t dare to snatch her favourite toy. But perhaps this love of her cuddly gang will help her with her friendships in the future.

There is something very peaceful about watching a small child play. For one thing it provides a lovely break from the screaming, temper tantrums and endless noise that is usually present in the house. It’s quiet, gentle play. But on another level it is very soothing to watch such a tiny being take such joy in the simplest of things.

The ‘joys’ of toddler play

Toddlers have a very short attention span. I mean really short. I mean a goldfish might just probably pay you more attention than a toddler would. Today I planned a lovely morning of painting followed by water play – am I mad I hear you ask? Well yes quite probably I am as the painting lasted all of five minutes and the water play resulted in us both needing a complete change of clothes. As my tiny lady hates getting changed this kicked off a screaming match ending in a tangle of limbs and me just leaving her in her vest until nap time. I kept the heating on so I didn’t feel too bad.

So two activities; each barely taking any time at all but both involved more prep and clean up time than actual play time. Such is the lot in life of a toddler parent. You kill yourself thinking up new things you can do together, you goggle toddler games and construct complicated activities and for what? Five minutes and they have gone back to playing with the cardboard box left over from the last toy you were seduced into buying for them.

What’s the solution? Early childhood developmental experts stress play as the single most important factor in early childhood education. So we muddle along trying to fill each day with positive learning experiences. But what we often forget is that these experts site all types of play as important not just parent-led activities. Child-led play and solo play are just as vital to a child’s development.

So the next time you see your toddler pottering along tipping lots of toys on the ground in a seemingly random manner but appearing to be totally engrossed, don’t feel obliged to join in. Take a well earned break and sit down. I guarantee you will only get about five minutes anyway so enjoy it!