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Ensuring our children get the most out of play

© Feny Bautista
Feny at play with her 4-month old granddaughter Feliz. Face-to-face play time is the most valuable investment in infant development and learning.

By Ajeet Panemanglor

Experts look at play as a simple and inexpensive way to help early childhood development. And much of what a child needs for play can be found right at home, in places like the garden and even the kitchen.

Educator and child development specialist Feny de los Angeles-Bautista agrees, noting that play need not be expensive or unattainable. “You can play with Legos or recycled materials,” she points out, “But space and time to do it comfortably, where it’s unhampered or uninterrupted by sharing space in congested urban dwellings, this is lacking.” She advocates for safe play spaces, where children can also have quality interaction with adults and peers. “The more important step is engaging them and interacting with them,” she advises.

Feny is a well-known authority on child development with her work in the Philippines and abroad. With her colleagues from the Community of Learners Foundation, she has helped contribute to national child education programs, including the new national kindergarten curriculum and learner-centered approaches. She is also the moving force behind the children’s show Batibot. Through her many years of work with children and families, she has found play as the centerpiece of early childhood development.

Feny teaching Cebu teachers and principals on the new kinder curriculum. Copyright Feny Bautista.

Through play, children learn to wait their turn, deal with frustration, express feelings and ideas, and to share. Play then becomes a sort of laboratory in which they learn about behavior they use in daily life, and later, as adults at work with others.

“One of the most significant values of play is how it prepares children from infancy through adolescence for all kinds of relationships,” says Feny. She points out that such things as conflict resolution cannot be taught as effectively to children by telling them as they can be through play. “They have to live it and learn it,” she says. She emphasizes that the adult’s role is to ensure that children are safe, and to interfere as little as possible.

Feny mentions teachable moments, which can only be identified and taken advantage of if quality time is spent with children. This can take the form of engaging in group play, or even in simple conversations about their favorite television shows. But always important, she notes, is engaging them as individuals, understanding their perspectives, not talking down to them but maximizing possibilities for teaching and learning.

Feny advocates changing mindsets when it comes to the concept of play. “We believe in play but don’t trust ourselves and our children to benefit fully from it,” she says. She notes that many schools and parents believe that play should stop at elementary school and be replaced by drills and tests. “Give them attention and then materials, in that order,” she recommends. Clearly, cost is no obstacle to a fulfilling play experience for children. But adults will need to make time and effort for them, ensuring children have safe spaces, interacting meaningfully with them and listening to their needs, for it to become a truly enriching experience.

 

 
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