Playing is not just a fun time for children; it’s how they learn about their environment, how to communicate with their peers and understand how things work. Through play, children learn problem-solving skills and develop their fine and gross motor skills.
Making new, meaningful, and engaging play experiences requires thought, energy, time, and planning. Which can be hard to stick to, especially when you have to adhere to your usual schedule.
Whether your child likes playing with their latest dolls pram or action figure, extending playtime is one of the best strategies to keep kids entertained for longer, whilst learning a few tricks.
Follow this guide full of useful tips for extending playtime to work out how to do this with your little ones.
How to extend children’s learning using play
Here are some tried and tested methods to extend playtime. To ensure these examples are useful, we’ve suggested some approaches on how you can accomplish this successfully.
If your child is playing and interacting with a specific style of toy and is showing a great deal of interest, think about how it can be used or how it correlates to another environment. This is one of the easiest ways to extend play and it’s very effective.
For example, if your child seems particularly interested in dolls and playing house, then you can extend playing by encouraging them to take their doll with them when doing some errands, like food shopping. Incorporating a dolls pram into this type of play is an exciting way to carry on playtime.
Many people find learning easier when they have direct experience with the item, event, place, theme, or subject. When your child is in the playing activity, they often like to be hands-on and interactive, which in turn extends their play through knowledge and experience.
For example, say your child is playing with farm animals and has a barn-themed play. The extended play strategy would be to visit a real farm. By giving them the interactive experience of visiting a farm, you extend your child’s learning built on the prior playing experience.
Expanding on skills
All play experiences incorporate skills, whether it is structured or unstructured play. These skills may include independence, social skills, gross and fine motor skills, creativity, communication, and problem-solving.
When watching your children play or if you play alongside them, you may quickly notice which skills they have that are strengths and which ones need improvement. This is your chance to prolong play by planning other activities focusing on the skill that needs improvement.
For example, if you were doing an adult-led play activity on holding scissors accurately (fine motor skills) with cutting straight, you could extend this by using tongs to take poms poms (or other items) from one side to another. You can also encourage them to play with clay to support the muscles in their hands to hold scissors correctly.
Build self-talk and questions
Early years practitioners often note their little students are engaging in self-talk, where they talk aloud to themselves while they play. They can also talk to friends and ask their teachers/parents about the play activity and learning. Interactive dolls are another great way for children to practise self-talk.
Taking note of these questions and what they talk about not only gives you a pleasant, sweet memory, but it makes an amazing tool for future play ideas. It also builds on social skills.
For example, if your child has been playing with a sea-themed sensory container, they may talk about making up an adventure about the fish toys that they’re holding, or they may reference a favourite movie or TV show involving sea life.
This can lead to extending play by having chances to tell a story, puppet show, or read a book about fishes and marine life. You could also pick a YouTube video about the ocean.
Build on background knowledge
When our children learn something unique, they love to connect it to something they learned before, which is background knowledge. Through extending play, you offer your children various experiences and opportunities to build their background knowledge.
This is fantastic for extending children’s learning.
Ways to extend different types of play
Three common types of play are water, block and pretend play. Here are simple methods to extend each type of play!
- You can give your child bath sponges or a huge car cleaning sponge. This will be fun to squeeze water into containers instead of pouring.
- Add a little body wash or dishwashing detergent to let your children make bubbles and foam.
- Add their favourite dolls, cars and figurines. Give them a cloth too to wipe their toys clean.
- Try water play with small river stones, leaves, small sticks and seed pods.
- Add a bottle that has been punched with holes so your kids will have fun watching the water spray out.
- You can add mirrors of different shapes and sizes to encourage visibility and cool 3D effects while your children build. If you’re worried about the mirrors breaking, you can go with acrylic versions.
- Give your children pictures of bridges and other designs to copy or as an idea for their own design plan.
- Add loose parts, such as natural materials, when your children are engaging in block play.
- Add small platforms or tables to create a stage or building area. You can do this by using mats, pallets, or tyres.
- You can add props such as cars and trucks for road play. Road signs, carpets, plants, and masking tape to make lines can also be added for the full effect.
- Add an object. Show your child how to play with toys that are not really toys. This includes things such as spoons, blocks, and other pretend objects.
- Add more characters to their play. Show them how to add more people into their play for an extended time of playing.
- Add a problem/conflict. Copy your child’s actions, then incorporate a problem into their play.
- Add a plan. Show your child how to plan pretend play by speaking about what to do before doing it.
What should I remember when extending play?
As an early years practitioner or parent, you must remember the crucial points of extending children’s play.
- Observing your children while they play is important when you want to extend the play. When you observe them, you see what they’re interested in and where their strongest skills lie, which makes it easy for you to extend play.
For example, if the child is playing with soft clay and cutters, and shows interest in a particular shape, like a dog, then you may get the idea to create a new experience based on the dog. This may include visiting a dog park.
- Monitoring your children is another key when extending play. You should always check if you are following your play plan. For example, you must set up the play idea you planned for, as you need to gather certain information for evaluation.
- Recording and taking down memos based on what you notice when watching the children play is a good way to record the experience for future purposes. This is also a good way to expand on the learning/playing being done.
Your notes don’t have to be fully constructed sentences; just jot down simple points to remind yourself what the next plan should be. For example, you can note down in water-play activities how the children enjoyed using the resources. Take pictures for a special album. Next time, we should add food dye to the water for more excitement and extended play of water experiments.
- Evaluating your play plan, which gives you an opportunity to see if you are going about this the right way and if the level of quality is there. This is to check if you are completing your play plans, achieving the objectives you’ve set, and if the plan gives your children valuable experiences.
Having these answers and seeing where you might need improvement gives you more ways to prolong the play.
- Reflect on your play plan and what you and your children have read, heard, or learned. This is a good way to celebrate a successful play experience for you and the children.
How do you make children’s play more intricate?
You can help your child engage in complex playtime by using books, stories, and songs. They can use their imagination to act out certain parts and maybe add their own twist to them.
How can I support my child’s play without it being adult-led?
Validate their efforts by participating in your child’s play activity. This shows them that you value what they’re doing without taking over the activity. Your presence to them communicates a lot. You can also add to your child’s play to help them make new discoveries and expand their knowledge.
Encourage extended playtime with Play Like Mum!
At Play Like Mum, we have a range of dolls prams and pushchairs to help extend your child’s playtime and enrich them as they learn.