Play is an essential activity for our children. It develops emotional and sensory regulation (after all, emotions are sensory-based experiences), motor skills, problem solving, and cooperation skills. Without rich play activities, our children are limited in their understanding of the world. Play does not mean elaborate toys either. By definition, a "toy" is anything a child can use to explore and play. A toy can be a swing on the playground or daddy's arms in a cradle creating a swinging motion; or it could be a tub of lids in different sizes and colors used for flinging like a frisbee, peek-a-boo games or stacking, grouping and counting. It doesn't need to be stamped with Playskool or Fisher Price to be considered a toy. But I digress...
How to Enhance Shared Problem Solving In Play
1) Create a goal or purpose.
Consider the toys your child is playing with. Are they using blocks to stack? Are they rolling a car around? Are they trotting action figures or dolls across the floor? Using the theme she's established, create a meaningful task to be completed. Maybe we need to stack the blocks to reach a small dog trapped high on the shelf. Or maybe we need to build a fort to protect us from the coming monster. The car can be used to transport or deliver balls and blocks around the room and the action figures may be hungry and need to find a delicious snack. Create a goal to be achieved and see how your child will attempt to achieve the goal.
2) Block the current
As your child is playing, you may see routines and repetitive cycles. Insert yourself in the way either physically or by creating an obstacle for them to finish what they are trying to achieve. Dance delicating on the line between fun, frustration and tantrum! Let's say her action figures have found their snack, several times over now, well Princess Elsa doesn't want any more cookies! What else could she want after snack?
3) Ask for help, and ask for it again!
Similar to creating a purpose, enter your child's play world. Assume the role of one of the characters, animals, cars, blocks or balls. Pretend your character is stuck or broken. Help! Help! How can we help? Continue to have your car break down, requiring more elaborate steps to repair. Maybe the ball won't bounce right (pretend!), how do I get it to bounce or spin? Get creative!
4) Reach up high! Dip down low!
Your child has favorite toys, objects and snack. How can you use these to create problem solving opportunities? By using different containers, hiding them in new places, placing them on your head "Where did it go? Where did it go?". Games of keep away, hide'n'seek, and gentle teasing will keep your child trying to figure out new ways to get what they want.
5) Be the Toy
Ultimately, a toy is anything children can use to entertain themselves. This includes you! Be animated and varied in your reactions during playful exchanges. See what your children enjoy and how they will try to get these reactions again from you. If your children enjoy horseback riding on mommy's back, but struggle to put together the multiple steps of climbing up, lower down to their height to climb but don't raise up until they nudge with their heels. After this single step is mastered, start to encourage a bigger lift of the leg or a shake of the reins. See how many steps your child will put together to get the play from you they want.
What are you favorite ways to create shared problem solving moments? Share them in the comments below!