Excerpt: 'The Secret of Play'

From Ann Pleshette Murphy, the former editor in chief of Parents magazine, comes a parenting book that indulges in all things fun, curious and inspiring about child's play.

Based on the latest research in brain development, social-emotional growth and learning, "The Secret of Play" explains the value of play at every age and every stage of child development. Parents can learn which toys, games and activities are developmentally appropriate so they can help their kids do what they do best -- play.

Three-Year-Olds

The Magic Year
If the first three years of a child's life are often called "the wonder years," then this fourth year should be dubbed "the magic year." Yes, there's something charming about every age, but 3-year-olds greet each day with a breathless, wide-eyed attitude that seems to say, "Today is going to be a fantastic adventure!" Whether they're opening their toy box or the refrigerator, rushing over to show you a drawing, or lathering their hair with shampoo, they do so with a flourish—as if every gesture deserves a drum roll, every accomplishment a round of applause.

Watching your child this year, you'll be awed (and perhaps envious) of her limitless energy and enthusiasm. A ladybug holds her spellbound; a scarf transforms her into a glamorous sorceress; and the concoction she whips up out of mud, sticks, and a few blades of grass is almost good enough to eat. To a 3-year-old there aren't enough hours in the day (one reason why she may suddenly resist bedtime) and her spongelike mind makes her eager to absorb as much as she can from dawn till dusk.

Your child assumes that you share her sense of wonderment—and she never tires of exploring and explaining and asking about the world around her. She doesn't realize that you had a long day at the office or forgot to pick up the dry cleaning; all she knows is that she's an adventurer and you're her partner, teacher, coach, and playmate. Lucky for you, 3-year-old energy is infectious, and you'll probably discover that joining her play is a great stress-buster.

Your preschooler now has the developmental skill and self-control to enjoy playing with other children and to sustain relationships with a growing circle of friends. Her physical abilities, such as increased coordination, balance, and strength coupled with advanced fine motor skills, add to the array of games and activities she and her peers enjoy.

Your child's budding imagination catalyzes an explosion in her creative play: Her artwork is suddenly more detailed; her block towers, more intricate; her pretend worlds, more complex. She'll go from reality to make-believe lands so seamlessly and with such gusto that you'll swear she really inhabits that castle, fairyland, or deep dark forest. Her insatiable curiosity will inspire a litany of questions that run the gamut from the creative ("Why is the moon a croissant tonight?") to the concrete ("Why do we have hair?"), but at times her wild imagination and intense curiosity may invite new fears and phobias—especially when it's "lights out."

Learning Play: Imagine that!

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