We know from research that play is how children learn best, but for family providers, there are many added benefits to offering a play based program.
The family child care setting is essentially a home away from home for young children. Quality providers can offer families the comfort of care in a setting similar to what the children are used to in their own homes. Offering a play based program works so well in the family childcare setting for many reasons.
The majority of family providers work alone. Anyone who cares for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, AND school agers at the same time knows how difficult it is to schedule in teacher directed circle times, learning times, craft times, and large group times all while you are caring for the children directly, cooking, making bottles, changing diapers, cleaning, and just trying to keep up.
Play based curriculum allows you to let go of all of that and trust they are learning. While children thrive with routines and daily rhythms, overly structured and jammed packed schedules will cause unnecessary stress for them AND for you. A play based curriculum limits transitions and allows you time to actually enjoy your day with the children.
Stop trying to over schedule numerous activities just to say you got it all done. Stop stressing over how MUCH you think you should do and start focusing on the quality of WHAT you are doing. Don’t take time away from what’s truly important to fit in that “one more thing.”
Life itself is curriculum for young children. Let them help you with meal preparation. Have them set the table, sweep the floor, and care for pets. Don’t give up a chance for learning self help skills or social skills just to make time for another scripted circle time or prearranged group table activity.
Give them long stretches of time and space to play. Fill your program with loose parts and quality open ended materials. Be there to facilitate and support them. Let the children lead you to what interests them.
When the children want to hear a story, read to them. When they want to sing a song, sing. When they want to color or paint, let them. Most importantly, just let them play.
Trust them. They are learning.
We know the benefits of play based learning for the children, but there are benefits for us as well. Letting go of the stress of trying to do it all will make you a calmer and happier provider.
Let go of the over structured activities and teacher controlled schedules. Most importantly take the time to just BE with them, because at the end of the day that’s what the children will remember most.