Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Building isn't just for boys: Getting girls engaged in constructive playtime

(NC)-How many times have you walked into your child's classroom only to see the boys and girls separated into two different groups, playing with completely different toys? The boys are likely huddled around the building blocks, creating skyscrapers and forts, while the girls are busy painting and coloring.

Sure, you can chalk it up to society's gender expectations to explain this play divide but does it mean girls have no interest in construction play at all? Unsurprisingly, the answer is no. Toy companies that specialize in the design of building toys have long researched the patterns of construction play among girls, specifically, and understand its long-term benefits.

From developing language skills to boosting a sense of achievement, construction play serves as a stepping-stone for a young child's intellectual future. "Playing with building toys provides children an ideal way to engage in discovery-based learning," says Dr. Maureen O'Brien, developmental psychologist and child play expert. "It is through this type of learning that children are able to build their confidence through trial and error and develop a sense of achievement, enabling them to physically link their world to the play world, building their brains in the process."

The learning benefits of block play are further enhanced when layered with open-ended, imaginative play, such as make-believe with dolls. Children begin to understand their world and give it perspective by playing with toys that enhance exploration through customization and storytelling. This combination of block play and role play is a boost to your child's development.

Understanding that girls love and benefit from creative construction as much as boys do, O'Brien has some tips on incorporating building play as a regular activity for your daughter:

Make construction playtime a group activity - Girls are able to spend time collaborating, assisting and supporting one another over a building project when in groups. This strengthens interpersonal relationships.

Emphasize storytelling - By connecting a story to their creation, children learn and understand problem solving skills, language development and the elements of decision making - all important next steps in the learning process. Construction toys designed specifically for girls can help them tell their story. Have you seen the Mega Bloks Barbie Build n' Style Luxury Mansion, for example? It is considered the perfect balance of building and playing. The play-set allows girls to build, design and re-design, decorate and style Barbie doll's home any way they want.

Incorporate familiar characters - A way to motivate girls with construction play is with characters they already know and love. The Mega Bloks Barbie example is a great fit here as well. The construction line features mini figures and iconic Barbie details that appeal to girls. When girls recognize characters, they will likely be more inclined to try something new.

Join and guide the fun - Playing with your daughter during building time increases her chances of learning from the activity. Even when parents and children sit and walk through building instructions together, children are exposed to problem solving skills needed to assemble the construction set.

O'Brien encourages parents to break through the traditional playtime expectations to instill life-long benefits of construction play - especially for girls. The skills they will acquire through a simple shift in their play routine can expose them to numerous future opportunities.

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