As a parent I know how hectic life can be. We live in a hurried world, where we rush our children from one place to another. I recognise that there are benefits of play, but sometimes I forget just how important it is.
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood – Fred Rogers
Play is critical for children’s development because it provides time and space for children to explore and gain skills needed for adult life.
What are the benefits of play?
- Child’s play develops creativity and imagination
I love watching children play, listening to the conversations they have, the stories they tell, the roles they play. A table becomes a secret cave, a staircase becomes a mountain to climb, the gap down the back of the sofa becomes a long dark tunnel to crawl through.
- It is important for healthy brain development
Child’s play is key to neurological development. It allows children to use their creativity and imaginations, whilst building their cognitive, social and emotional skills.
- Willingness to take risks
Balancing on a log, climbing up a climbing frame, jumping from rock to rock builds children’s self-confidence and esteem. Play encourages children to take risks and overcome challenges, developing a sense of accomplishment.
- Problem solving
When playing children are solving problems, creating, experimenting, thinking and learning. When they throw all your cushions on the floor and jump between them, they’re having to work out just how many cushions they need and how far they need to jump, to avoid the boiling hot lava! Play develops your child’s ability to think, understand, communicate, remember, imagine and work out what might happen next.
- Processing emotions
Through play children act out scenarios that can happen in real life. Playing schools, vets, hospitals etc helps children to learn and practice strategies to cope with fear, anger, and frustration, helping them face future challenges.
- Play builds negotiation skills
Play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate and resolve conflicts. The fight over whose turn it is to drive the imaginary car is great practice for future workplace negotiations.
- Play allows children to develop their own interests
I’ve never been able to cartwheel because I can barely get my legs in the air! So I was slightly amazed when I discovered that my eldest is very good at cartwheels. So much so, that she will literally cartwheel her way along the pavement! Child directed play allows children to focus on their own interests, developing their passion for a particular topic. Luckily my youngest likes pretending to be a Super Hero, which is within my capabilities!
- Play builds language skills
Children communicate through play before they can even talk. Play gives children an opportunity to develop their language skills, putting into practice things they have heard their friends, family members and teachers say. They try out new vocabulary and gain storytelling skills. I often hear my children repeating things that I’ve said, when they’re playing!
- Play develops fine and gross motor skills
The simple act of building with blocks, drawing and role play builds fine and gross motor skills, therefore aiding a child’s physical development.
- Play is fun
Last, but definitely not least, play is a whole load of fun. Which is surely a good enough reason in itself!
That all sounds great, so what do I do?
- You can provide time, space and resources for your child to play. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you need to buy lots of expensive toys to gain the benefits of play. Play resources can be anything which inspires play and captures children’s imaginations. For example; clothes to dress up in, boxes, saucepans, spoons, blankets, natural objects such as pine cones, stones, leaves and twigs.
- You can setup invitations to play, or let the play activity be child-led. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you’ll find some art and sensory based ideas.
- Just watching allows you to have an amazing insight into how your child thinks. Your child will also gain from the benefits of play if you join in with them too.
- Provide safe, but challenging environments that support and extend learning and development.
- You might also like:
For some simple play ideas to try take a look at the Playday Facebook page.
Playday is the national day for play, traditionally held on the first Wednesday in August. It is a celebration of children’s right to play and highlights the importance of play in children’s lives. Playday is the biggest play sector event in the UK, and possibly Europe. It is coordinated by Play England, in partnership with Play Scotland, Play Wales and PlayBoard Northern Ireland.
What’s your child’s favourite play activity?