Parents do not always understand the importance of play, and, in today’s competitive world, the temptation is to have children stop “wasting time” and to put that time to what they believe is more constructive use.
But for a child, there is no more constructive activity than play. Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.
What do children learn from play? It allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development and paves the way for learning. Children who play regularly tend to perform better in mathematics and reading in comparison to those who have fewer opportunities to play.
Play helps children learn about the world in which they live. They can investigate and discover, test their theories, develop spatial relationships, and explore cause and effect, societal roles, and family values in a caring and safe environment.
Play builds self-esteem and social skills. Children will often play at something they know they can do well, at which they can be successful. They will begin with solitary play using inanimate objects like dolls, stuffed animals, trucks, and blocks. Later they will play with other children as they learn to share, negotiate, and cooperate.
Play with parents should not be underestimated as research has shown children whose parents play with them ultimately develop superior social skills. When parents play or join with their children in child-driven play, they are given a unique opportunity to see the world from their children’s vantage point. They learn to communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance.
Play helps with language development. Think of the vast number of words a child uses during play, many of them repeatedly, enhancing their language skills.
Consider the importance of pretend play in stimulating a child’s creativity and imagination. Making a castle in the sand, or a barn out of a shoe box, preparing dinner in their imaginary kitchen or playing dressing up allows children to stretch the limits of their world and experience the fun of make-believe. They are using imagination, storytelling, and problem solving skills that are the foundation of reading, writing, and communication.
Physical play provides various health benefits and promotes early brain development and learning in infants and young children. It helps a child to develop connections between the nerve cells and the brain. As these connections develop, a child’s motor skills, socialization, personal awareness, language, creativity, and problem solving are improved.
Quite simply, play is a cherished part of childhood that inspires fun and laughter and creates a happy family environment in which both children and adults thrive.