So now your child has surpassed kindergarten and you are hoping that the meltdowns and difficult social behaviours are behind you...
I hate to be the bearer of bad news here. Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems! As with all elements of raising children, things don't get easier - they just get different.
With new ages come new challenges. If used the right way, play time can be so valuable for children in Grades 1-3. This post will help you see the ways to think about structuring (and unstructuring) play for children in these age groups.
Dramatic play is still your friend once kids enter Grade 1. At this age, the story lines become more real. They are deeper, and include more conflict. Kids often act out scenarios through play, whether it is through imaginative play or more realistic dramatic play. For example, you may see a group of kids pretending to battle while they act out different characters in a sci-fi monster-esque television series. You may see another group of students acting as different members of a household, navigating a dramatic turn of events. Kids make meaning of their world through these scenarios and we can use this to help them run through the more difficult social situations.
In my years at school, I have found that Grade 3 is typically the most challenging for social behaviours. Drama ensues - feelings get hurt, mean things get said, the conflicts feel big even though to grown ups, they seem silly. Helping children learn expected and unexpected social behaviours can take practice. Giving them a scenario to run through and "problem-solve" the best way to react or respond can be a great way to create teachable moments without lecture style learning.
The list of social scenarios you could use is truly never-ending. They can be about home, school, the playground, the doctor/dentist, etc. Beyond using frequent problem-areas that arise in your household or classroom, here are some great prompts you could use (or tailor to apply to your own!):
- Johnny goes to the park and sees 3 kids playing. He wants to join but isn't sure how. What could he do?
- Lori's friend was supposed to meet her to go biking today, but the weather is suddenly pouring rain and Lori is feeling very disappointed. What could she do?
- Sue and Shelby were playing together at recess. They noticed Jaimee sitting by herself against the wall, looking sad. What could they do?
- Ben was supposed to play with his friend at recess, but his friend decided to play with other people instead. Ben felt very upset and hurt about this. What could he do?
- Lena is BORED. She has been stuck at home everyday. This makes her feel cranky, tired and restless. What could she do?
- Max is in class and notices his friend starting to act silly. The teacher is getting frustrated since she has to keep stopping the lesson. What should/could he do?
Have the child/children act it out, use puppets, draw a comic or write a story to show how these situations could go. If they aren't sure, this is a great opportunity for a teachable moment.
What to Play
Toys/Materials at this age are plentiful. However, my rule still holds true. The more the toy does, the less the kid does.
Toys that are open ended and foster opportunity for creativity and imagination are perfect for this age group.
This might be categorized into different subjects or themes such as:
- Art (here is a wild list of 100 supplies to have at home for art! You definitely don't need them all but it might spark some ideas for new things to consider!)
- Building (Lego, K'nex, Magnatiles, Marble Run, Unifix Cubes, Wooden Blocks, Gears, Straws and Connectors, etc.)
- Science (Sensory Bins, Non-Fiction Books, Magnifying Glass, Bug Collectors, Nets, Kid Tweezers, Beginner Lab Sets, Goggles, Gloves and Coat, Gardening/Botany Kits, etc.)
- Drama (Puppet Theatre, Costumes, Drama Centre, Reader's Theatre Scripts, "pretend" items such as food/kitchen, medical kits, etc.)
- Music/Dance (Instruments, Karaoke Microphone, Just Dance Videos, etc.)
- Math/Logic (Puzzles, Board Games, Strategy Games, Card Games, Dice Games, etc.)
How to Play
You can help direct the play by giving open-ended tasks that require innovative thinking from the kids.
I used to ask my students to "design me a structure that _________________". I'd fill in the blank with whatever came to mind that didn't give too many parameters. I never told them what materials to use and I'd answer very few questions. As far as I was concerned, they could draw it, paint it, build it with lego or other materials - it didn't really matter. You'd be surprised how hard it is for a child to follow an unstructured instruction when kids are so used to totally structured activities. They almost don't know what to do with the freedom. But once they realize there are no rules and no consequences to how they decide to go about solving the challenge, they start to loosen up and have some fun! Some prompts I'd give were to build a structure that...
- could house a cat
- has 3 floors
- is made of edible materials
- has only round walls
- would be suitable for a large family
Get creative and have fun!
I hope this post inspires some newly directed play!