Parents take many roles in supporting infants and toddlers in their play. Although we separate them to discuss them, in reality they are all related to each other – with safety as one overarching theme and learning through interaction as another.
Setting Up Environments for Play
Safety is of primary importance and involves setting up a healthful environment free from hazards, then carefully monitoring what goes on in it. Without safety, there is no free play. Although some children are bigger risk takers than others, most children are comfortable only when they feel secure and know no one will let them get hurt.
Encouraging Interactions and Then Stepping Back
Children learn much from children. By interacting with their peers, infants and toddlers learn much about the world, their power in it, and their effect on others. Through the kinds of problem-solving situations that present themselves in child-child interactions, youngsters come to learn such valuable skills as how to resolve conflicts. The adult’s role in these child-child interactions is to encourage them, then step back until needed.
Supporting Problem Solving
Adults support problem solving. It takes sensitivity to recognize the intellectual value of the many problems that arise during free play. Adults provide scaffolding for children’s problem solving. It takes skills to know when to help. Often adults do too much and interfere with the child’s ability to solve. They deprive the child of discovering his or her own approach. The key to scaffolding effectively is to determine the point at which the child is about to give up.
The adults in a child care program that stresses free play sometimes look as though they aren’t doing anything. Some people think that adults in a wants-nothing node-available but not directive-look too passive. They may look passive but they are busy observing.