Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Play is the highest form of research.”
Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “All children have the right to play and rest”.
Children playing is really important … But why?
Play is one of the most important needs your child has. Children need time and space to play – to create, to imagine, to wonder, to marvel at nature, to enjoy company or be alone, and to grow. As parents, it is up to us to make sure that our children have the freedom and time to play.
What does play do for children?
Allowing time for unstructured, uninterrupted children playing time gives them the opportunity to:
- Relax, have fun and be stress-free
- Develop healthy bodies and minds
- Think creatively and be creative with their hands
- Satisfy their natural curiosity
- Imagine all manner of wondrous things
- Improvise and make believe
- Experience roles other than their own
- Make sense of their world
- Explore and develop physical skills
- Try out new cognitive skills
- Learn how to occupy themselves
- Initiate their own activities
- Have control and make their own rules
- Be happy in their own company
- Understand that play does not mean spending money
- Interact with other people and the environment
- Make friends and see another’s point of view
- Build relationships
- Develop their verbal skills
- Learn to problem-solve independently
- Express and manage their feelings
- Self -regulate and self- discipline
That’s a lot of learning going on while your child is happily playing! The social, emotional, physical, cognitive and verbal skills above are all vital to the complete development of children.
Children playing time can involve all the senses and this is especially important for babies who explore their new world through sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell and feelings. Parents can help babies and children to learn about their family environment and develop skills by sharing play and providing developmentally appropriate items to smell, touch, hear, see and taste. (These don’t have to be expensive toys – there are many everyday things at home which will serve the purpose.) This doesn’t mean that you have to be with your child all the time, stimulating and entertaining. Children and babies also need quiet and alone playtime to set their own pace and develop concentration skills. Connections in the brain are developed from birth, so it’s important to be sensitive to your baby’s needs and respond quickly.
Who to play with?
A parent playing and conversing with a child for some time every day sends a message to the child that:
- play is important
- play is fun
- the parent values time spent with the child
- the relationship with the child is important to the parent
And it gives the parent an opportunity to model desired behaviour. This also applies to grandparents and other significant adults.
Playing with other children is important as they get to pre-school age. Social and language skills will be further developed by this play, whether it is one-on-one or in a group. This doesn’t need to be a complicated or costly undertaking – an hour at the local park or in the backyard, a casual playgroup where parents can chat while their children play – these are easy ways to help your children socialise. It is not necessary to use Early Learning Centres as a means of socialising young children, or teaching them. Babies and children will learn in whatever environment they find themselves – at home, with extended family, out shopping with Mum, going for a walk with Dad. And best of all, you don’t have to pay for these experiences!
Playing alone is also vital to your child’s development as it allows the child to plan and carry out his or her own game in his or her own time. The freedom to make decisions, be whoever the child wants to be, explore, test new skills and use the power of imagination, gives the child an opportunity to grow in many areas of social and emotional learning. Children often talk to themselves while playing and this is something to be encouraged, especially when they are doing something challenging, as it fosters concentration, effort, problem-solving and success.
When we talk about children’s play, often the first thing that comes to mind is toys. But the best kind of play only has one main ingredient – imagination – and costs nothing. Planning and playing make-believe games helps children develop the critical skill of self-regulation. Children with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behaviour, resist impulses and show self-discipline. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. So allowing time for this development opportunity through play is necessary.
Janet Powell is an Authorised Instructor of the world-renowned Parent Effectiveness Training course.
Contact Janet at firstname.lastname@example.org