Don't underestimate the value of play

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 14, 2011 05:17 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Hi Barbara, I am a mother of a 3-year-old boy who is in pre-school. He hasn't been paying much attention when it comes to reading or writing his letters/numbers, and I know some of his friends in school are doing so. All he wants to do is play with his friends outside when they come around. Please advise how can I help him? Or should I let him play more? Thanks.

From: Joy, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Dear Joy,*

Frankly, I think the importance of play is under-valued these days. Play is the work of children; it has huge benefits socially, emotionally, and intellectually. The give-and-take of play helps them interact and get along with peers; learn to stifle or control their impulses; make decisions, brainstorm solutions, and make connections between cause and effect; and learn executive function skills. In other words, it helps them to think critically and logically, setting the path for academic learning, as well. And by path, I don't just mean that figuratively, but literally, as in laying down pathways in the brain.

Should you let him play more? I don't know how much he's playing now, but more can never hurt. Especially, do all you can to encourage imaginative play. Put a big box (from a washer, refrigerator, anything really big) in the middle of the play area. Crawl inside with him and pretend it's a bus, a rocket ship, a boat. Hopefully, before you know it, he (and his friends) will be dragging all sorts of objects inside to pretend they are the other passengers/ astronauts/ sailors, and he's the driver/ captain/ boss.

Should you be teaching him how to read? Do you need to worry that he doesn't know numbers or letters? Imaginative play can help with that, too. With a few simple props -- a pad of paper and crayon -- he can play restaurant and leave a bill for the customers, or play grocery and make signs telling customers how much food costs.

But remember this, too: Should your home be sprinkled with books? Absolutely. Should you read a story book to him at least once a day? For sure. As parents, should you present a model of adults who read books or magazines on a regular basis? Yes, yes, yes.

Just the act of reading to him every day, and placing a value on reading as a source of pleasure as well as information will give him critical pre-literacy skills. Reach Out and Read, a national organization in the US, thinks the early exposure to books is so important, that it distributes free books to young patients through participating pediatricians. Thistab on the Reach Out and Read website offers a great list of books, by age.

* Happy Valentine's Day to all of you, my favorite readers -- parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, hangers-on, and wanna-be's in all those categories!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

add your comment
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag

Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at)
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

All parenting discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed

click here to subscribe to
Child Caring