The Importance of Play
Updated: Sep 11, 2018
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw
Most of us have probably heard that quote before. As adults, we can forget how important playtime is to kids. We live in a time of rushing and busyness. Rushing to get from place to place and rushing our kids to grow up. Sometimes we forget to let our child just be a kid.
However, playtime is crucial in the development of toddlers and preschoolers. A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that unstructured, free playtime is not only healthy, but essential for children in reaching important social, emotional and cognitive development milestones.
Why is playtime so important?
Free play is necessary for many types of our child’s development. Now we are going to explore examples of these and how you can help your child make the most of their playtime.
We now know that playtime has a direct result on social and emotional development and cognitive growth. The time before the age of three years old has been referred to as a “critical period” in brain development. Knowing that, as parents it is up to us to provide the most well-rounded opportunities for our child to grow and learn. Playtime is one of the first opportunities that a child has to discover the world. Time for free play has been reduced for some children due to more busy lifestyles, changes in family structures, and an increased number of activities. As parents, we must help to find a balance between structured activities and free play.
You may have a newborn or small infant and think that your child isn’t quite up to playing just yet. At this young age it is up to parents to initiate play and show babies how toys work. You are the one who shakes the toy that makes noise or makes faces and smiles at your baby. This is play for them. This is how they begin to understand how things happen. As a child grows, their play changes. Around the age of two and older, you may be drawn into what they want to do. The older a child is, they will direct the play.
Let’s look into the different types of development with which playtime assists. First, playtime leads to skill development. Infants learn hand-eye coordination by reaching for and playing with toys. As children grow, games and puzzles increase problem solving skills. Has your child ever been so engrossed in what they are doing that they don’t hear you call their name? That playtime is helping with concentration, focusing on a task, expanding attention span and memory. Any type of physical play will assist in maturing large-motor skills and physical development.
Play also aids in a child’s social skills. At first adults are a child’s primary playmate. As children get older, they will enjoy interacting with other children whether it is playing alongside or just observing. This is a way they learn to get along with others and that others have wants and feelings as well. This is where they will learn about sharing, kindness and being part of a group. Social play can strengthen language skills and help children understand social rules.
Playtime helps to cultivate and express a child’s imagination and creativity. When a child is pretending to be a princess or a cowboy they are working through their own ideas and emotions. Colouring in, painting, any type of creating falls into this category. Creativity has been shown to help brain development.
Make sure that your children have access to “true toys” like blocks or dolls. Another example could be dress up clothes, play kitchen/household items, and action figures. These toys aren’t electronic and stimulate creativity rather than those that require a more passive participation. Don’t forget to include books at all ages. Just because a child cannot read yet doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t instill a love of books and the pictures/stories inside of them.
Who knew that playtime was so important? Let’s not be in such a hurry for our children to grow up. Allow them to play and make an investment in the person they will become!
Click for more on how free play creates emotionally stable children in an unstable world