Purposeful Play

Purposeful Play

Purposeful play is essential to healthy development. Purposeful play includes elements that develop fine and gross motor skills, language, socialisation, personal awareness, emotional wellbeing, creativity and problem-solving. Children on the spectrum and those with ADHD tend to shine in purposeful play as opposed to fantasy, social or ‘games with rules’ type play which they tend to find very challenging due to the intricate social skills needed and other changeable factors.

When children are in a particular developmental (sensitive) period, they focus on specific activities, games or materials relevant to that particular period and need. The child will become completely absorbed in the activity for extended periods, and once complete, they stop of their own accord; they appear refreshed and calm – not tired or cranky. In Montessori philosophy, this type of activity is referred to as children’s ‘work’, not as ‘play’.

Check out my Montessori 101 course to learn more about Montessori and how it could benefit your family and for heaps of activity ideas.

Purposeful play, or work, is how children learn. Children naturally tend to work and play to fuel their insatiable desire to learn. In a Montessori environment specifically, learning is encouraged by providing children opportunities to undertake spontaneous, purposeful activities under the guidance of a trained director. Still, there are many things you can do to encourage purposeful play at home. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Simply sliding penne pasta onto straws stuck into playdough counts as purposeful play – there is a huge amount of skill, process and sequencing happening in your little person’s brain just doing that (and they just think they’re having fun)!

Children will all work at their own pace and rhythm according to their individual capabilities, but they will develop concentration, self-discipline and mastery of new skills through their work. You may notice when your child is absorbed in an activity, they will tend to repeat the activity over and over again. This desire to repeat and master the activity is referred to as ‘spontaneous repetition’ in technical terms. What your child is actually doing is repeating these activities to help develop their focus and concentration – priceless skills they will need throughout their lifetime. This is why it is so important to allow your child the time to repeat and refine their skills in their own time at their own pace without interruption (even comments such as “good job!” or “you did it!” or correcting them or helping them unless they ask for it counts as an interruption even though it comes from a place of love!). Children will usually repeat an activity until it is mastered. Keep in mind that this repetitive play is different to a child ‘stimming’. Stimming is a repetitive behaviour that a child will do to calm themselves, such as hand flapping, spinning something etc.

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