You came here for an answer to your question “what is guided play?” but you will leave with a lot more than just a simple answer. But to quickly and concisely answer the question, guided play is when parents, caregivers and/or educators get involved in their child’s play to teach them new skills in an indirect and implicit way.
Guided play is extremely important for children between the ages of 0 and 3. Children learn so much during these critical years and parents are their child’s best teachers! However, play does not come naturally to many adults (myself included. But I learned the importance of play and how to play with young children as part of my education and training in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist). Therefore, during many of my therapy sessions with young children it wasn’t a surprise to see parents ooh and aah over my “play techniques”.
I was thrilled when I learned that a Speech-Language Pathologist named Frida, and her company Indy Talk Shop, had come up with a fabulous product to help parents engage in guided play with their young children. I had the honor of being able to ask Frida a few questions about her product, The Playbox.
Here are my questions and Frida’s answers.
1. How Did You Come Up With The Playbox Idea?
Back in 2012, when I was working as a full time pediatric speech-language pathologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, I started thinking about how I could use what I learned in my profession to make a product. That began my journey into a world of entrepreneurship. I started going to meet up groups for digital healthcare, joining an inventor club and taking a bunch of different courses ranging from marketing to financial spreadsheets and business-plan-making to learn how to make products in healthcare and insurance – stuff that made my head spin and I had no clue how to do! I even tried taking a computer programming course and drove my husband nuts because he ended up spending hours with me every night after work on my assignments!
After all of that and some seriously long nights, I realized that I was trying to make a product in fields that I really had no idea about. So, I went back to the basics. I started really listening to what the parents of the children I work with had to say and watching how they interacted with their kids at home during playtime. It didn’t take long for me to realize that toys weren’t tying in research into their designs and parents weren’t being given the right tools – in the form of toys – to help their kids grow and learn. That’s how I started designing our Playbox.
2. Who Is Your Target Audience?
We love to connect with parents of little ones between the ages of 0-3 because we fundamentally believe that this time period is critical for brain development, bonding and overall growth. This is such a special time between parents and kids that we feel families deserve better designed toys to help them reach their child’s potential when playing with them. Our Playbox line is designed for toddlers and preschoolers, but our baby line will be designed for those early months into their first year to help guide better interactive play with infants.
3. What Are The Benefits Of Using A Playbox As Opposed To Regular Toys?
The benefits of our Playbox are threefold:
Encourages Guided Play
The Playbox is designed based off the outcomes in child development research. This research has shown that if parents gently guide how kids play by asking them questions, emphasizing important words and conversing with kids, kids learn more abstract skills, develop better bonds and even increase their IQ scores.
Our story is designed to engage parents and their kids in this type of guided play routine that researchers have said is great for their development. In our first Playbox launching in late February 2017 called Indy and the Farm, we have paired an original story and matching farm animal puzzle set. As parents read the story, they are prompted to emphasize certain words, sounds and vocabulary as well as ask questions and pose simple problems with the puzzle. This type of interaction promotes a reading-while-playing experience that is all about guided play to improve communication and cognitive skills. By the end of the interaction, kids have not only practiced their language skills, but also become more flexible mentally and exercised their problem-solving muscles!
Promotes Developmental Skills
Since I am a pediatric speech-language therapist, I have taken research from my area of study as well as my clinical experience to hand-pick the words, sounds and vocabulary that are critical for toddlers and preschoolers to learn. I was also very careful to pick the nature of the story, the puzzle and methodically considered the type of interaction that the experience could create between parents and kids. I wanted there to be lessons available for the child just as there are for the parent in terms of what guided play looks like and how to do it so that parents could try it with other toys too! As parents, I think it is pretty easy to get bogged down with what exactly to teach our kids and when. This helps narrow that down a bit so that you can focus on the developmental skills that are most salient and important to practice while playing.
Our Playbox comes in a wooden box that stores the story with the matching toy. This design allows for ease of storage in any bookshelf! We will also be adding other features, like a handle or straps to the box, to help kiddos transport their Playboxes from place to place without hassle.
4a. Do You Feel Parents Can Get Too Carried Away Providing Guided Play Activities?
I think that as parents, we try to search for good solutions to help us focus the time that we have with our kids. But, sometimes good marketing from big companies moves us in the wrong direction. For example, new research has shown that apps on devices that move from image to image too quickly, can actually be hurting our kids’ attention spans. Many parents wonder whether or not using technology is good for their little one’s development, but the answer is not so simple as a “yes” or a “no”, but it is more about the quality and quantity of what is being used.
Also, the toys that are being called “interactive” right now are along the same vein. These are the toys that repeatedly play music, sounds and flash lights. If you take a close look at what happens when a child and parent play with one of these toys, you realize that they stop talking to each other because they are listening to the toy instead. The toy doesn’t give the child a chance to respond verbally. That may also be hurting our kids’ development.
On the other end of the spectrum, kids have very overbooked schedules and don’t have any time to just be – or, be bored! Being bored offers great opportunities for imagination to strike and creativity to thrive. This is when kids come up with interesting new games, role-playing scenarios and all kinds of imaginary play schemas that help them really take off developmentally! All in all, I think it is about creating a sense of balance and harmony between offering kids opportunities for guided play while also giving them their time to have fun and play freely too.
4b. If Yes, How Do You Suggest They Find A Balance
Finding a balance to anything can be difficult. My suggestion to families would be to observe your kids more. When I sit back and observe what a child is telling me, whether they are talking or telling me non-verbally with their gestures and body language, I am able to easily gauge what they are interested in doing at that moment. Sometimes, kids really want you to just watch them play on their own when they are engaging in free play. Other times, they are vying for your participation. That is because they inherently know that you can teach them amazing new things. It is during these moments that guided play really manifests beautifully between parents and their kids because it is natural, fun and carefree. So my suggestion would be to really watch them and to follow their lead.
5. Do You Believe Children Need A Mix Of Guided Play and Free (Unstructured) Play?
Absolutely! Children need to learn to how to manage their world on their own at times and at other times, be guided on how to do so. They learn how to do that through a combination of guided play and unstructured play. Both are not only great, but crucial to a child’s healthy development.
Tanya’s Final Thoughts
As children get older the need for guided play lessens because most children have already learned many valuable skills and can put those skills into practice through child directed free play! So don’t worry about constantly “planning” activities for your children as they get older. But in the early years a good amount of guided learning is extremely important and a playbox will be beneficial to both you and your child.
The first playbox is called “Indy and The Farm” and contains a carefully thought out, age appropriate book along with a coordinating puzzle. You will also receive instructions to get the most out of your playbox. Make sure you take a look and learn more about the Playbox!