What do you think of when you hear the word playtime?
As adults, we may think of playtime as an extracurricular activity – a break from real work or real learning. But for preschoolers, play is a significant part of their day, because it actually promotes learning and helps them develop necessary skills. Think about what happens when a child plays. They are beginning to imagine and explore. Problem solve and share. Organize and think.
Through this play, they strengthen their fine and gross motor skills. And when leveraged properly, playtime can become an instrument to help preschoolers learn important truths. Truths that they will build on and carry throughout their life. Combined with a strategy, something truly wonderful happens during playtime – play has purpose!
Play builds connection.
One of the natural outcomes of playing with your preschoolers is that it builds a connection between you and them. Participating in playtime with a child shows them that you like them. Of course you love all of the preschoolers that come each Sunday. But when you sit on the floor (yes, I said floor) with a child and begin rolling a ball back and forth, your smile, eye contact, and encouraging words show them that you are interested in what they are interested in. You want to have fun with them and be their friend. And that builds not only a connection, but trust as well.
Choosing to engage in playtime with your preschoolers helps create a safe space for them. When they feel safe, they are more relaxed and open to hear, learn, and talk with you. And when you’ve built a bond of trust through play, you can begin to share truths like, “God loves you” and “Jesus wants to be your friend forever.”
When you sit down with a child and make something out of Play-Doh™ or blocks, it creates a natural avenue for us to say, “Wow! You made that! God made you so creative! I am so glad God made you!” Playtime, learning, teaching truth…it all becomes one experience rather than segmented times in a preschooler’s life. Connecting with a child through play is the quickest and most effective way to gain influence.
Play offers opportunities to learn about your preschoolers.
Playtime is a great time to get to know your preschoolers. What are their favorite foods? Talk about it while you pretend to cook together. What do they watch on TV? Talk about it while you dress up and imagine together. What is it like where they live? Talk about it while you build houses with blocks together. Did you notice the key word in each of those activities? Together. When you participate in playtime with your preschoolers, you put yourself in a position to hear what is on their mind and in their heart.
When preschoolers feel safe and are in a setting with familiar toys, doing things they enjoy, preschoolers will begin to talk to you. And the best part, most of the time you don’t even have to ask any questions. They will randomly tell you about their sparkly shoes or what their dog did yesterday, or how fast they can run. And then one day, if you sit long enough, they will begin telling you about what is going on in their life – the small and the big. And trust me, big things are happening in our preschoolers’ lives.
When a preschooler shares with you that they are afraid of the dark, you have the opportunity to teach them that,“God is always with you.” You may hear about a friend that made them sad or how no one came to their birthday party. (I’ve heard this one more than once, and it breaks my heart.). During these times, you can encourage your preschoolers with the truth that, “Jesus wants to be your friend forever” and “God cares about you.” And believe it or not, insecurities about outward appearances can be found in our preschoolers. Maybe it’s how their hair looks or the freckles on their face. What a sweet moment to share the truth that, “God made you, and God made you wonderful!”
Play increases learning.
All humans learn by doing, and this is especially true for preschoolers. All you have to do to see this in action is drop by a home improvement store that offers hands-on building opportunities for children and their adults. You will quickly find both the adult and the child learning skills they will never forget. This is why it is no surprise that many children struggle with learning in the traditional classroom.
Unfortunately, the traditional classroom setting, where the teacher talks and the student listens, causes children to shut down. This could be for a variety of reasons. They might be nervous or scared (lack of connection) or they might be bored, which often turns into behavioral problems. Fortunately, there is a better way – Play!
When a child plays, they engage through exploring, asking questions, and discovering new things.
Play insights wonder and provides the opportunity for a child to experience something, rather than just be told something.
When a child can touch, smell, taste, see and hear what you want them to learn, the lesson will not be quickly forgotten. Furthermore, when a child has the opportunity to retell or re teach what they have learned, using toys, props, or costumes, they will remember it even more. We want preschoolers to know that God is not just for grown-ups. God wants to be a part of their world. And not just a part of their world, but a part of their everyday lives too.
I will never forget the first year I taught a 3-year-old preschool class. We had a sweet little guy named Will that did not want to participate, and he never talked. He seemed so shy and withdrawn. One day, we pulled out a box of superhero dress up clothes for the children to play with. Will was all for it! When he put on that superhero cape and mask, Will became Mr. Confident! He engaged, answered questions, and even participated in the other activities for the first time. When Will was a superhero, he was not shy or withdrawn. Imagining with Will changed everything for him. He actually ended up wearing that cape for several weeks, but we didn’t mind at all, because we knew that through play, he was learning truths about God.
Do you like to play?
You have been given the amazing opportunity to teach preschoolers that God made them, God loves them, and Jesus wants to be their friend forever. Make the most of this time by using playtime to build connection, learn about your preschoolers, and provide a safe, relaxed environment that promotes learning. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I incorporate playtime in my preschool teaching?
- Am I providing a space where preschoolers feel safe and relaxed through play?
- Do I cast vision to my volunteers and parents about the importance of playing with a purpose? (For example, if you hear someone say, “They’re just playing” at drop-off or pick-up, that is a great time to cast vision and explain that those children are learning at that very moment!)
If we want to help preschoolers grow an everyday faith and help them see that God is a part of their everyday lives, then we have to meet them where they are in their preschool years. It’s time to play!