Thursday, May 31, 2012

The one with the importance of play

Charlotte loves to help me cook.  Every time she sees me get ready to cook, she starts to drag a chair over to the counter, saying "see!  see!"  Tonight we were going to make shepard's pie, so she dragged her chair over, and began to watch me peel potatoes.

Well, peeling potatoes is only interesting for a short while so after about two potatoes, she lost focus and started playing with the small bit of water in the dirty dishes in the sink.  I gently removed the dishes and started filling up the sink with warm water, a squirt of dish soap, and tossed in a couple of measuring cups.  The scene was set.

First, she spent some time scooping the bubbles and only the bubbles.  She would scoop them gently with one measuring cup and dump them into another.  She did this over and over until she made a hole in the bubbles and saw the water below the sudsy layer.

She stood at that sink for a half an hour while I continued to cook supper.  She scooped water.  She poured water from one cup to another, from a cup to the sink.  She slid her arms in all the way up to her elbow and said "cold, cold, BRR!"  She waved her hands around and watched the water swish.  She stuck her hands into the flowing tap.  She smooshed the suds in her hands and said "washing!"

As I watched her, the early childhood educator in me came out full force.  I watched my toddler completely engrossed in what some people would discourage - playing in the sink, making a mess, getting water everywhere.  Instead of scolding her, I encouraged her.  This was a prime learning opportunity and I was not about to squash it.  Learning?  What learning?

Well, let's see.  During the half hour of water play, Charlotte (19 months) said the following words (many times):
cold, cold, brr
oh no!
This play experience encouraged an explosion of language!  She had so much to say about what she was doing and had the opportunity to let the words flow freely.

Not only did the experience encourage her language development and help increase her vocabulary but she also learned about a whole slew of concepts:

force -- she felt the difference in the water flow when I turned the faucet on full blast vs having the faucet gently drip water into the sink
temperature -- she noticed the temperature of the water ("warm!") and played around with the concept when she said the water was cold ("cold, cold, brr")
wet/dry -- the kid was soaked by the end of it  ;)
space -- she filled her measuring cups and dumped them; she moved the bubbles and noticed the water underneath; she swished water around and watched it ebb and flow
size -- she noticed the size of the tea towel that she put into the sink near the end of the experience and shouted "big!"; she looked at a mountain of bubbles and said "tall"
density -- as she squished the bubbles in her hands, she experimented with the density of the suds; she also explored this concept as she deliberately scooped ONLY the bubbles when she first began to play
weight -- she filled her measuring cup and said "heavy"
relationships -- as she played in the sink, she made many mentions to "Gram" - she often sits and bathes in the sink at her Gram and Grampie's house
emotions -- throughout the play experience, she exclaimed "happy!  happy!  fun!"
self-control -- she wanted the faucet on all the time but I could not leave it on the entire time or the sink would overflow - she played on despite this - she also kept the water in the sink quite well

All this from playing in the sink?  You bet!
Sometimes those things that you think are messy, annoying, frustrating, inappropriate, a pain-in-the-neck, or purposefully meant to drive you nuts are the things your babies really need the most.  Let them play.  Let them learn!  Trust their abilities to learn and let them explore their world.  Messes only last moments; lessons last a lifetime.

"Be careful what you teach; it might interfere with what they are learning"
~Magda Gerber


  1. She was having so much fun...Love you Charlotte *hugs*

  2. This is so sweet! Cameron loves cooking with us too! He says "I help?" and "Chair!" (so we can bring the chair over to the counter.) Watching them play and learn while helping us with big-people activities is so great!