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In the Classroom: The Moonbeams

Playing together

 
Two-year-olds often begin their third year of life playing independently much of the time, but as time goes by, they learn that playing with peers can be rewarding as well. 
 
This shift tends to occur naturally as children gain emotional maturity as well as linguistic mastery. The transformation from playing by oneself to wanting company largely mirrors the change from being an egocentric individual to one that acknowledges and accepts others, especially peers, as unique entities who, like him or herself, have wants, preferences and interests.
 
The role of language is a big one when it comes to playing cooperatively. Non-verbal communication tends to be enough early in life, as when a one-year-old gives her peer a playful smile and starts to run away, all the while looking back, hoping to communicate a message of “Chase me!” 
 
Two-year-olds begin to be much more deliberate about their ideas, such as, “You be the baby and I’ll be the mommy,” or “Can you help me make a tower?” Being able to communicate specific ideas clearly has a big impact on cooperative play.
 
Personality also has a lot to do with whether a child will welcome company, or whether he or she prefers playing alone. Some children, just like some adults, are more introverted, opting for solo time and space. 
 
An important role of teachers is to encourage positive social interactions while respecting the temperament of individual children. A teacher can model appropriate language for a child who wants to play alone, e.g,“Tell him you want some space.” For a child watching others play, it can be hard to know how to join in; teachers can suggest, “It looks like you all are playing trains; I think one more passenger wants to climb aboard!”
 
Navigating cooperative interactions, as well as learning how to speak and listen to one’s peers respectfully, is a process that typically begins when a child is around two years old. Watching as children learn to communicate and function harmoniously can be one of the most rewarding parts of working with "twos"!
 
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