Reflective play

taking a break from the bustle of the playgroundHave you ever seen a child sitting quietly under a play structure who seems to be doing nothing? In fact, time spent doing nothing is just as important as all the time spent playing tag, building sand castles, and reading books. Resting, thinking, and just staring into space are important parts of a child's day. Like adults, children need time apart from hectic environments to reflect and regroup. Busy days and spaces can make children feel stressed and cause them to lose focus. If quiet spaces and activities (such as games and puzzles) are a part of your playspace, children will naturally seek these out to calm down or to participate in quiet play with a small group of peers.

Just as moving and playing are important to development, the opportunity to rest and reflect allows children to learn how to self-regulate their emotions and behavior. Quiet places allow children to reflect on their play experiences, solidifying the foundations for future learning. During moments of quiet children can focus on their thoughts and feelings at their own pace with minimal distractions. Children are naturally drawn to small, comforting spaces where they can be alone or with one or two others. Small spaces provide a sense of security. By having several small quiet areas tucked throughout your playspace children can have a quiet moment without needing to leave the playspace entirely. Children will re-join the play at their own pace after taking advantage of the quiet spaces.

Calming areas

nature's hide-away within a treeSometimes during play it is important to take a break, a breather so to speak. By including sheltered, cozy spaces for children in your playspace, you give them the chance to hide from the chaos of the playspace, plan their next activity, or take a rest. These spaces can be incorporated in a variety of ways throughout your playspace. Quiet places should let children feel hidden from view or create an opportunity to be alone with a friend or an adult (depending on age). Sometimes sounds can be muffled to further distance the child from the active and noisy play. You may want to include materials that encourage quiet play in these spaces. Provide books, as well as paper and pencils for planning new play ideas. Also, provide some different textured manipulatives to explore.

Quiet spaces in playspaces might be tunnels, caves, or the childhood classic, forts! In outdoor playspaces, tree houses and natural groves (between trees, rocks, and hills) are also places children find peace and solitude. Indoors, create places for quiet in distinct rooms or even corners with lots of pillows. Inside and out, children love playhouses and lofts where they find nooks and crannies just for them.

Games and puzzles

Life-size board gameWhen children play with board games and puzzles, they are not only having fun and winding down from physical play, they are learning to solve problems, understand spatial relationships, coordinate movements, and negotiate with others. Children as young as three years old can sometimes play simple board games that use colors and symbols. But games are typically appropriate for children over the age of 5. At this point, their play tends to be more social and they are able to begin to understand the complexity of the many rules needed to be successful playing the game.

Be sure to have a variety of puzzles and games in your playspace that provide a wide range in difficulty level to meet the needs of children who will play in your playspace. Young children will enjoy puzzles with fewer pieces that are large and easy-to-grasp. Older children will enjoy puzzles that challenge their intellect, but that they are able to solve without assistance. Also, consider whether the puzzles are closed-ended or open-ended. Close-ended puzzles have one way to complete them and provide the child with the sense of success when they complete the puzzle. Open-ended puzzles have many ways that they can be completed and challenge the child to think creatively while solving the puzzle.

Helpful links:

KidsHealth (2006). Is your child too busy? https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-too-busy.html

Lee, Katherine. (2006). Why babies need downtime. Parenting. https://www.parenting.com/baby/why-babies-need-downtime-21332648

Perry, Dr. Bruce. (2006). The Importance of pleasure in play. Scholastic. http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/pleasure.htm

(Photos courtesy of Free Play Networks and Snug and Outdoor)