The Magic of Instructional Play

“Instructional play is an enjoyable activity or game that results in learning.”

~ Dr Donalyn Heise in “Dare to be Positive!”


We’ve recently had a look at how important it is to intentionally create learning opportunities for our children in which they can practise their ability to remember instructions, focus their attention, complete tasks step-by-step and adapt to changing circumstances, in short: to develop their “executive functioning skills”. (If you’ve missed that post, you can read it here.)


A wonderfully fun and effective way of doing this is to play educational games that require keeping a goal mind, following a step-by-step process to reach that goal and then looking back afterwards and evaluating what worked and what didn’t. Educationalists refer to this kind of play as “guided play” or “instructional play”.


For this kind of play to do it’s magic, it’s important to engage a child at an age-appropriate level. You can, for instance, encourage a 2 year old to “find all the flowers” in a pack of picture cards, since a 2-year old can typically focus on one rule at a time. At the age of three, that same child will be able to sort according to two categories, e.g. “Let’s pack all the flowers here and all the animals over there.” In contrast, 4 year olds are capable of quickly alternating between rules, e.g. “Please, sort these cards according to colour and these ones according to size”.


Instructional Play


When we as parents frequently play fun one-on-one games with our little ones that encourage them to use their brains to develop skills that are within their ability, but just beyond their current functioning, we are giving them a gift for life: we are “scaffolding” them to new heights and making it possible for them to develop to their fullest potential.


The Practica Programme


Amazing things happen when parents know what a typical child is capable of at a certain age, how their unique child is fairing against that background and how to instill all the skills and abilities that are attainable for their child by means of enjoyable instructional play.


Established in 1993, the Practica Programme specializes in guiding parents and caregivers in this regard.


We provide parents with a wooden toy box filled with educational tools and a structured Parents’ Guide with lists of milestones and age-appropriate play activities that aim to stimulate brain development in a balanced way across all the domains of development – from birth up to a child’s 7th birthday.


Practica children are typically exceptionally school ready and emotionally prepared to face challenges by the time they reach the end of their formative years.


Naturally, children enjoy activities that build on existing skills and aim towards attainable goals. That’s why the key to unlocking a child’s fullest potential through successful “scaffolding” is playing the right games at the right time.

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