by Claire Russell
Early Years Specialist

Research released by the Department of Education suggests that 100,000 under fives are not learning at home but according to Early Years Specialist and mum to one, Claire Russell, who is a huge advocate of learning via play, it’s all about talking to your child and spotting opportunities for them to learn as you go about your everyday routine.

Claire told us: “Talking and singing to your child is the best thing you could do. From day one provide a running commentary telling them about what you’re doing. Even though they may not be responding or talking back, the words will be going in. It will provide children with a wide range of vocabulary! And don’t be scared to use big words either!”

She continues: “Learning doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down with a pen on paper, particularly when it comes to pre-schoolers. It can be counting steps as you climb, spotting letters in road signs or taking turns in a game.”

In particular, the survey found that over half of parents do not spend time teaching children their alphabet but Claire believes learning through play is important in so many other ways.

“Learning is not just the ABCs and 123s, it’s about so much more. We need to teach our children life skills such as social skills, kindness and empathy, how to share, take turns how to look after ourselves and our bodies, how to think of others and the world around us. And who better to teach them? Us! Their parents and carers are their first teachers. We all know children watch, observe and copy. So it’s important we model the skills and characteristics we hope to see in our children.”

Here Claire provides her tips for encouraging play at home:
• Turn off the TV and keep distractions to a minimum when your child is playing.

• Keep resources to hand and ensure your child knows where they are, helping them to become independent and not rely on you to find the answers.

• Teach your child how to do an activity first. Don’t assume they know how to take on the role of a shopkeeper despite the numerous times they’ve been to the supermarket with you!

• Go with the flow. If you set up an activity for your little one, but they do something totally different to what you’d intended, that is absolutely
fine. Support them and encourage them to follow their own initiative!

• If they have enjoyed playing with a particular activity try leaving it out for them to access when they want for at least a week. If you don’t like the mess, perhaps you can throw a tea towel over it?

• Praise your child for their play, the way they play and what they are doing, reassuring your child and showing them how much you value their play, after all, it is supporting their development!

• Try not to interrupt your child when they are focusing, if it can wait then let it. Young children can only concentrate for small amounts of time, so you’ll probably only be waiting for a few minutes anyway!

• Sit by your child, giving them a sense of security, reassuring them that you’re in sight while showing them that you value their play.

• If they invite you to play with them, copy them. Don’t take charge, just do what they do and let them take the lead. They will love it!

• When you feel you can, talk about what you are doing. You might feel a bit silly doing it but you are teaching your child how to play. Use words they may recognise but introduce new vocabulary too. Tell them what you like, dislike, your favourites and give reasons. Your child may offer their opinion or they may not. There’s no pressure!

• As your child plays, as long as you don’t think it will break their concentration, comment on what they’re doing. Suggest
a few things you like about their playing, for example, “I like the way you are stacking the bricks to make a tall tower.” ” I like the way you are trying to get that to stick.” or “I can see you are persevering.” These show your child that you value what they are doing. Your child may choose to tell you about their play and may begin running their own commentary.

Claire Russsell is currently working with the Department of Education on their Chat, Play and Read campaign. Claire is founder of playHOORAY! and designer of the playPROMPT activity cards providing realistic play ideas for preschoolers.

For further information about playHOORAY! and to download the please visit www.playhooray.co.uk.