Young children do not beat around the bush when they invite others to play. “Play with me!” It doesn’t get more direct. The simple request is initiating interactions with others. Social play!
Some ideas to encourage social play:
Provide children opportunities during their day for child-directed playtime.
The play area and materials should be safe, inviting, clean, and enough space to move around freely.
Ensure children get positive adult attention, supervision, and interaction.
Respond to children’s communication.
Observe what motivates each child.
Get involved in the child-initiated play. Smile often. Use a positive tone of voice. Be enthusiastic about the activities.
Follow the child’s lead.
Use a child-directed approach, rather than adult-directed or didactic. During play we don’t like to be told what and how to do something. For example, the child is in the kitchen play area and grasps a broom. They are handling the broom safely and singing while they sweep. Avoid telling the child how to sweep or taking over by giving play directives. Instead observe what they are doing and respond to their communicative attempts during play. Continue to be attentive and interact during the play. They also do not require verbal praise like, “Good job sweeping.” They are intrinsically motivated to play and saying good job is unnecessary to encourage social play.
Respectful caregiving creates secure and trusting relationships with children. Watch as young children bloom in the nurturing play environment you produce for them.