I’ve noticed these last few weeks that my little girl is developing her play a lot more and this got me thinking about the importance of play for all children, but also about how a lack of play can affect children too.
We all know that play is a vital part of child’s life, whatever age they are. It can contribute to developments and learning in all parts of their life as they grow. There are physical, social, emotional, psychological benefits of play. It’s their way to explore the world around them, and it provides opportunities to develop lifelong skills. Although children can play independently, they do need adults to provide the resources and sometimes, show them how to play. The adults can provide appropriate challenges and reassurance.
Some children who are adopted may not have had the resources or opportunities to play. This may be due to lack of play-things, lack of a safe environment, or lack of adults who can provide the interaction children need. They may not have anyone to model their play on, as children do tend to copy what they see. Due to their experiences some of these children may be too anxious, or too hyper-vigilant to play. They may not be able to relax into the activity as their too distracted by trying to keep safe. Some children may have not been able to play as a very young child, so have missed gaps in their development.
Before adoption I knew that all these things can happen, but had never really seen what it really looks like. Since adopting our daughter, we’ve seen it to some extent. She is 3, and came at 2 1/2, so we’ve been able to make sure she has lots of opportunities for basic toddler play. We noticed that at times she seems to find it difficult to select something to play with. She’ll wander the room, but not really play with anything. We’ve found that a way to encourage her to engage is to make sure there a few toys left out, so that she does’t have to select something she can’t already see. We try to make sure there’s not too much out as it can be a bit overwhelming. We try to make sure we initiate the play, as she’ll nearly always join in this way. Her last foster placement was brilliant, and it did a lot of good for her, however it was a very busy house. It had a large, well stocked playroom, but we suspect that she didn’t get a lot of 1:1 adult attention, so her and the other children may have been left to ‘play’ alone.
She appears quite advanced for her age, but after getting to know her, we realised that this is quite a superficial observation. We don’t really know a lot about her care before the last foster care placement, so are not sure if she particularly missed any stages in terms of play, but we have worked hard to do the baby-ing activities. (e.g. rocking, stroking, feeding etc) This is to help bond/attach and almost give permission for her to be/act younger. She came with lots of baby type toys, and we’ve kept them all. Partly due to keeping the familiar items that seem to be reassuring to her, but also again to signal that it’s ok to play with them and regress a little. We’ve bought a few toys that some would say she’s too old for, but have found these to be useful in helping to either distract from a tantrum, or to help maintain/restore calm. When we went to visit family, some of the children (who have also been in care themselves) were engrossed in playing with the toddler toys even though they are 8 and 10 years old. This made me wonder if they’d missed out on some of the play experiences at an early age, and it brought home how important trying to fill some of the gaps is. Our daughter has a baby cousin, and I’ll encourage her to play with the baby and explore the small baby toys with her as we don’t know if she got this opportunity. At playgroups she can be drawn to the baby toys. To others she may look too old to be playing with them, but I always let her and encourage her to play with them if she wants to. Some of the sensory type toys are her favourite. She loved the play/baby gym the other day, and I wondered, did she ever play in one when she was little?
She initially struggled with the logic/problem solving in the age appropriate puzzles, but has improved a lot now. However, now she’s older we still do those activities aimed at the younger child as it helps with her confidence and self esteem. We always make a big fuss and celebrate when she’s done it right, she loves it.
It’s been lovely to see more recently that she is able to initiate and maintain meaningful independent play for a lot longer than she used to. It’s lovely to watch her absorbed in her activity and really enjoy it. She is able to use her imagination a lot more now. She is able to do more advanced activities, and really loves it when we play along too, particularly with role play. She uses her favourite doggy friend a lot in her play, and he’s been great to help her start to understand some of her feelings and emotions. She loves reading, and it’s been great seeing how her world is opening up as we explore books together. She also really enjoyed colouring, and will happily colour for quite a long time. She particularly like us to draw pictures for her, and we’ve found this a good way to explore thoughts/feelings with her. We do some sensory play in the form of basic arts/crafts, cooking, baking, water play. I just have to remember she’s a toddler, and so it’s not going to be perfect, and thats ok!
We’ve encouraged as much physical and outdoor play as possible. I spent many hours wandering the local park in the freezing cold and rain because she loves being outdoors. She was a bit behind physically when she came to us, so it’s been important to find opportunities to catch up a bit. Its been wonderful to see her achieve new things at the playground, or run without constantly falling over. She can now jump properly, and she’s so pleased with herself. Her confidence and self esteem in her physical abilities has massively increased. One of my proudest moments as her mum was when we did the local mini race of 1.5km. She ran the whole way, we came last, but she didn’t notice or care as she had got that medal that she had wanted. She had wanted to be like Mummy and get a medal too (I have run quite a few races, so have quite a few medals). She’s doing really well on her balance bike, and with lots of praise and encouragement, she’s able to be proud of her achievements. Initially she was quite bothered by other people and what they were doing, and so found it difficult to attend/concentrate on what she was doing, but I’ve noticed that this is less of a problem now. She seems more able to focus her attention on her activity, and is less distracted, so is able to achieve more.
When I look back to 10months ago when we first met her, I can see that she has changed so much, and I think a big part of this is down to her learning and experiencing play at her own pace, and in her own way. I’ve been lucky to have been off work for so long as it’s enabled us to develop a strong attachment, which has created the trust and safe environment for her to relax and learn. I’m really excited to see how she develops in the coming weeks/months, particularly as she’ll start her more formal education/learning journey at nursery in a few weeks. As they say, ‘the world is her oyster’………