The child psychiatrist Paul Ramchandani has been tasked with conducting research at the University of Cambridge into the role of play in child development.
The study is still ongoing, but Ramchandani’s observations, reported in a recent article published by ‘The Guardian’ are very interesting.
Ramchandani is convinced that we need to change our traditional notion in which we believe that small children learn by spending long periods of time in structured environments:
“Learning at home does not have to look like school and probably shouldn’t”.
A valuable lesson for us in this extended period of time at home.
So how should we behave then?
At home it is important for parents to be able to notice, interpret and respond well to their child’s attempts at communication. This is where fathers can play a key role.
But there’s more to it. We need to reverse our traditional view of educational relationships. And this is where Ramchandani’s advice is surprising:
“Watch what your child is doing and try to follow their lead, doing what interests them”.
Active parenting is key to encouraging young children’s learning and their social and emotional development.
Respecting the time they need to learn, without forcing them or trying to speed them up is just as important: “Slow down and let the child complete the task themselves, however long it takes, because that is how they learn.”
Ramchandani’s research is still underway, and so for the time being it is difficult for science to define the benefits connected to this new way of interpreting the role of parents. However, it appears that when children are able to play freely, they achieve potentially better results in terms of health and lower stress.
“From some of the studies we’ve done, we know that the children of fathers who are more engaged – and usually that’s in a playful way – tend to do better in terms of their behaviour and development”, says Ramchandani. “Children will learn and enjoy different things from different kinds of play, and taking the time to play with your children, getting stuck in, during lockdown, is the most important thing”.