Every child learns through play. Even for the older child, projects are a more mature form of play that teaches academic knowledge and life skills. But many foster children have experienced severe neglect, abuse, and limited opportunities for play. This is something valuable you can gift a foster child for life.

Play Should be Meaningful

The right educational toys and activities for a child’s stage of development are important. At different phases of growth, the child learns new skills and knowledge. A foster child who has undergone extreme neglect may not be at the age-appropriate stage of development. It is necessary to adapt play for the developmental phase of children in care.

That said, there are some principles of meaningful play that can guide a foster carer to the best activities for a foster child. The first of these principles is to allow the child to select their own activities and toys. For example, a foster child may play with certain toys beyond the age they are recommended for. However, a foster child is also working through emotional issues and might need this comfort. Start from there. If in doubt, contact your fostering agency, such as ISP Fostering, to speak to skilled people who can help you enrich your foster child’s play experiences.

The second principle is that a child’s play sessions should be experienced as agreeable, fun, and entertaining. Being allowed to exercise choice leads to the third principle: that play and learning follow a natural evolution if spontaneous. Play also enhances intrinsic motivation, the fourth principle. The final principle is that play must create an open, sharing environment where a child can test their own opinions.

A foster child may come from a primary family that denied self-expression. As a foster carer, you might need to nudge them gently towards making choices. You can do this by asking what the child wants to eat and letting them choose what to wear. Observing the foster child at play will also give the foster carer some insights into issues the child is struggling with.

Active Play

Small children need plenty of opportunities to engage in active play. As they get older, this may be channelled into sports through school or attending extracurricular activities. Family camping trips that involve hiking will allow children to get sufficient exercise.

But physical activity is not just about exercising and keeping the body healthy. Younger children develop essential fine and gross motor skills. A child who has been abused may be able to channel any emotions they are feeling through active play. Another child with the same background may need to be encouraged to engage actively. You can initiate games with a broad outline and ask them to make the rules.

The Value of Play

Children at play learn to exercise their imaginations and build creativity. They also use play to deal with intense emotions and troubled thoughts. Play teaches them to socialise and set boundaries by creating rules for games. Children learn values like sharing, patience, and assertiveness when they play.

Play is one of the best tools in your kit as a foster carer.