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Ask Nanny Louenna: The Importance of Play

Ask Nanny Louenna: The Importance of Play

Nanny Louenna is currently working as a Freelance Temporary Nanny, Childcare Consultant and Maternity Nurse. She has graduated from one of the most exquisite colleges for nannies, Norland College in Bath, with the highest award. Louenna has also launched a childcare app where she will share all her knowledge on topics such as weaning, potty training and looking after a newborn! You can download it here. You can also follow Louenna on Instagram.

Our 'Ask Nanny Louenna' blog series brings an exclusive opportunity to get advice and tips from one of the most desired nannies out there.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. You are the best parent for your child and only you can make loving and wise parenting decisions by knowing your child and your unique family situation.

Albert Einstein said: “Play is the highest form of research.” This is something I am passionate about and why I have included many learning through play activity ideas on the Nanny Louenna app.

Why is play important?

If you sit a four-year-old down to ‘teach’ them about adding up, they will see it as a chore. You will find their lack of concentration and enthusiasm frustrating and schoolwork will become a battle. However, if you give the four-year-old some beads and a string in the garden and ask them to add two more and count how many there are, that’s fun with no pressure – and it’s something they can visualise rather than it being on a piece of paper or in a workbook.

If you teach children through play, they don’t realise that they are learning, and are more likely to soak up the information because it’s fun and relevant to them. Learning should be done throughout the day, not just in one half-hour hit.

Having discussions with your toddler or child will enhance their development.  Asking questions such as these throughout the day will enhance their general understanding; Is the water hot or cold?  What shape is the cake?  How many shoes are there by the door?  Which tree is the tallest?  What colour are the flowers?  Why do you think the ice is melting?

Play encourages healthy brain development and allows children to use their creativity, whilst developing their imagination and physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities.  It is through play that children at a very early age, engage and interact in the world around them. Role-play enables children to act out what they see adults do to enhance their social and emotional development. It encourages their imagination and problem-solving skills. A pretend kitchen is always well used!

Here are some activities you can do to enhance your child’s holistic development through play:

  • Kinetic Sand
  • Water play
  • Jigsaws
  • Building blocks
  • Painting
  • Dancing
  • Singing
  • Musical toys
  • Train set
  • Ride on car

These fun activities help to build cognitive skills and a child’s ability to concentrate. In the early years, concentration is hard to sustain but you can build it up through different games and activities.  Playing a board game such as Snakes and Ladders or Connect 4 as a family, is a lovely way to enhance a child’s learning and language development. Here are some other fun games that your children will enjoy:

  • Snakes & Ladders
  • Connect 4
  • Monopoly Junior
  • Shopping List Game
  • Guess Who
  • Bingo
  • Articulate
  • Dominos
  • Match and Spell 

The importance of outdoor play:

Playing outdoors gives children a sense of space and it’s the first thing I do if I feel a child is beginning to show signs of frustration or ‘climbing the walls’. By doing something as simple as going for a walk in the fresh air, you don’t realise how much it enhances children’s learning and understanding of the world. For example, go for a walk in the rain using umbrellas and talk about what happens to the puddles when the sun comes out.

A child can’t climb the walls, if you take the walls away

Play is half about us teaching children what things are, and half about them finding out for themselves through exploration. That’s why I try not to say no all the time, even if you know it’s not the best idea, by doing and finding out, is the only way children will learn. Encourage independent play by setting up a little activity and telling your little one you are going to do some boring jobs while they have a play. Don’t interrupt them when they are playing, as you’re likely to distract them and they'll gravitate to you and leave what they're submerged in. 

Should I encourage independent play?

I do find that some children have wild imaginations and love nothing more than being in their own little world with their toys whereas others need an adult’s presence to play the game with them. I always try to give children my attention by playing with them sometimes and not expecting them to play on their own all of the time. As a result, I find they don’t crave that time with you and are much more likely to play independently.

A big part of independent play is being able to get on with it and not be constantly told no.  If you can create a safe area where they are free to explore and play without you hovering or saying no don't go there, don't do that, don't touch that, don’t make a mess etc. it really helps.

Make sure the toys your little ones have to play with are age appropriate. If it’s too easy, they'll get bored, if it’s too hard, they'll get annoyed and lose interest. Having toys on rotation will keep your child interested.  Pop some away and then get them out again a week or two later and it’s like having new toys! Make a time for play everyday, when children have a routine where they know they are expected to have some time on their own, they accept that time and take themselves off.  Be realistic, don’t expect your toddler to play for hours on end by themselves!

Keep it simple:

Sometimes the simplest toys get the most use, like building blocks or a cardboard box. It’s because they provide un-ending play ... a child can make them what they want them to be. And the play develops and grows with their imagination.

The more a toy ‘does’, the less the child has to do. So, on some toys once they’ve pressed the flashing light or heard the music, that’s the end of the play. Children have the biggest imaginations, and they love nothing more than if you join in and initiate some wonder in a game ... children love role-play and pretend to be little adults. They can be who they want to be, and go where they want to go, so if you tell them that the red piece of Lego is a rocket, and the yellow piece is the moon, they can see that through their eyes and make up a whole story of how the rocket gets to the moon.

Children love to play, and I think it should be encouraged all day, everyday!

Discover Nanny Louenna's latest blog post all about weaning here.