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Purposeful Play … Preparing for a Lifetime of Learning

Student playing on phone at doctor's office play-set
Purposeful Play – Preparing for a Lifetime of Learning…
by Laura Perkins

The Toddler and Preschool years are so full of wonder and discovery.  We know that the development of the brain in the first five (5) years is foundational and paramount to further growth and maturity.  We also know that young children learn primarily through play.

There are so many wonderful programs available to families in the Boston area, but what about the free time at home?  We all have wonderful toys and books for our Toddlers, but sometimes we need fresh ideas to fill the time.

At Park Street School, we talk a lot about purposeful play.  Within various learning themes and developmental goals, we provide creative “play” opportunities for children that are fun and engaging, but also help them practice integrating new information into their working vocabulary and memory.  It also can serve to offer opportunities for developmental growth around social interactions as well as gross and fine motor development.

Fine motor development is a key area of readiness as children move towards Kindergarten.  There are so many fun ways to practice and develop fine motor skills and strength.

Here are some favorite ideas that Jenny Exilhomme, our Preschool Director, shares with families in our summer welcome packets.  Try out some or all of these ideas to have fun with your child while also helping them prepare to go to school.

1.       Building with toothpicks and grapes (or marshmallows, or cheese cubes, etc). 

Provide your child with a generous handful of toothpicks and marshmallows.  Show them how to make 2D shapes (like a triangle) and then demonstrate 3D shapes (cube).  Younger children will just have fun trying to poke the marshmallow or grape.  Older children will enjoy creating all sorts of 2D and 3D shapes.  Sometimes grown-ups like this too!  This could make a fun party activity and/or contest for children who are able.  The pincher grip necessary for piercing the grapes or cheese help develop muscles and hand-eye coordination.

2.       Cutting with preschool scissors or playdough scissors

Many families hold off on scissors until children are older, but cutting with scissors is SO FUN and an amazing way to build up hand muscles necessary for writing, etc.  There are a variety of scissors available for young children.  Save up your junk mail and let them cut away.  Cutting play dough is also very fun.  There are many creative ways to set up a cutting play-station, but you would be amazed how long toddlers can engage in cutting up your unwanted paper products!!

3.       Water-play with plastic eye droppers or turkey basters

Squeezing eye droppers or basters can provide wonderful muscle development.  You can add food coloring and use large pieces of butcher paper to make it into a cool modern art experience with eye droppers.  Providing a variety of cups to fill would be a great activity with the baster.  This works well in an outdoor space on a warm day but can work just as well on your kitchen floor.

4.       Fun with tweezers

Using regular or, better yet, larger plastic tweezers is a terrific way to develop dexterity in the hands.  An empty egg carton and some pompoms make for a fun sorting game.  There are many things you could provide for your preschooler to pick up with tweezers.  You can incorporate practicing colors, or counting, too.

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