Children express themselves through play while developing their inventiveness, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.
Most – if not all – children love to play. While playing is fun, it’s also essential to your child’s health and development because it contributes to their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to spend time with their children and have a little fun themselves!
The different stages of play
As your child grows, they’ll go through different stages of play.
Ages 2 to 4
As toddlers, children experience a motor-growth spurt that equips them to solitarily fiddle with anything they can get their hands on – be it a toy or the box from where it came. Toddlers also love breaking into song, wiggling and jiggling to tunes, and imitating finger plays they are commonly exposed to.
Ages 4 to 6
Preschoolers begin extending their play to involve others, whether they bring others in at any stage of their game or they plan their game and its players way ahead. Their physical and motor skills allow them to widen their lay arena, from dramatic play to table games to outdoor pursuits.
Ages 6 and above
School-age children start appreciating organised play such as innovative songs and rhymes, games with rules, relays and other physical activities, sports, and projects that they can accomplish over a certain time frame.
Play is a source of pure joy
When children are asked what they did in school and they answer “play” it is a clear sign that these kids remember a feeling of genuine joy that is captured in this four-letter word.
Play promotes socio-emotional development
What does a ten-month-old baby who shrieks at the sight of her stuffed toy have in common with a ten-year-old boy who plays basketball with his friends? They both deal with their confidence as they choose to embark on their play activities. At the same time, they are displaying their independence in the decisions that they make. These two children are also internalising social rules in their respective play situations: the baby waits patiently for her stuffed toy to appear, while the school-age child has to contend with an impending loss in a ball game.
Physical and motor development are honed through play
Play often involves the use of the senses, the body, and the extremities. When children play, they exercise their bodies for physical strength, fluidity of movement, balance, and coordination. Perceptual-motor ability, or the capacity to coordinate what you perceive with how you move, is an essential skill that preschoolers need to develop. A three-year-old who is engrossed in digging, scooping, and pouring sand into a container must match his or her perception of the space in front of him or her with actual hand movements so that he or she can successfully complete the motor activity.
Play is beneficial to cognitive learning
Play is vital to the intellectual development of a child. We live in a symbolic world in which people need to decode words, actions, and numbers. For young children, symbols do not naturally mean anything because they are just arbitrary representations of actual objects. The role of play is for the child to understand better cognitive concepts in ways that are enjoyable, real, concrete, and meaningful to them.
For instance, through play, a child is able to comprehend that the equation 3 + 2 = 5 means “putting together” his toy cars by lining them up in his makeshift parking lot. When he combines 2 triangles to make a square during block play, or writes down his score in a bowling game, the child is displaying what he knows about shapes and numbers. Through play, the child is constructing his or her worldview by constantly working and reworking his understanding of concepts.
Play enhances language development
Toddlers who are still grappling with words need to be immersed in oral language so they can imitate what they hear. They benefit from songs and rhymes that provide the basis for understanding how language works. When these tots are playing with toys, adults model to them how language is used to label objects or describe an event. At play, preschoolers use language to interact, communicate ideas, and likewise learn from dialogues with more mature members of society.
Play encourages creativity
Barney the dinosaur was right about using imagination to make things happen. A lump of Play-Doh suddenly turns into spaghetti with meat sauce and cheese; a small towel transforms into a cape that completes a superhero’s wardrobe; a tin can serves as a drum that accompanies an aspiring rock artist.
Play opens an entire avenue for children to express themselves, show what they know and how they feel, and create their own masterpieces.
Play provides bonding opportunities
Play is an important factor in child development. It provides for interaction, experimentation, and moral development.
Here are some ways by which parents can encourage and support their children’s playtime.
Let your child be the player-leader: Let children initiate their activity, set their own theme, choose the parametres where the play will take place.
Help them help themselves: When your 5-year-old asks for help, say, figuring out how to piece a puzzle together, stop yourself from coming to her rescue and first ask your child questions that allow him or her to help himself or herself. Say, “Where do you think this piece should go?” Afterward, commend his or her success.
Once you make a commitment to play with your child, watch for the following signals:
Does your child want you to actively play a part in the activity?
Does your child need encouragement?
Is your child tired or hungry?
Does your child need to take a break?
If you’re pressed for time
If you seem to have little time for playing with your child, consider using self-care chores to have fun with him or her. Also, get support from other people in your household, like older siblings, household help, or the child’s grandparents, so that they understand why play is important and how they should continue to encourage it.