Reviewed & Fact Checked by Vedangana Saini Ph. D, MS
As parents, one of your most important roles in a child’s life is to facilitate an entertaining conduit for learning. Suffice to say, the fact that learning is important to child development doesn’t have to be said twice. One thing, however, that may come as a surprise to some parents is that child growth and learning affinities respond best to two things: stimuli to their senses and playtime.
The American Academy of Pediatrics itself has recognized the importance of play to child development. In a study conducted by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd with the Committee on Communications; and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health of the AAP titled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” it was stated that “play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.”
Playtime provides parents and childcare professionals with opportunities to explore children’s remarkable natural talent for exploration, imagination, and decision making. Fortunately, play, above all these things, is enjoyable for them. This works out perfectly as play, with all its benefits, can be the primary entryway into education and learning for an enhanced and accelerated child development. It is, however, still important to note that the type of play children engage in and its function evolves over the course of their growth as infants, toddlers, and adolescents.
The Benefits of Play
In many cases, there isn’t a major need to provide incentives to convince children to play because oftentimes, playing itself is an incentive to them. This is due to the fact that children have a natural urge to play as it brings a great amount of satisfaction and entertainment that leads to a dispensability of further external rewards.
But how exactly do children benefit from such a low-maintenance regime that has so much upside? From physical to mental and emotional facets, playing is an activity that provides a lot of everything all at once.
In terms of physical development, active play – especially those done outdoors – make use of large and small muscles through physical activities like climbing, running, ball games, digging, jumping, and dancing. Such activities nurture children’s overall health, general wellbeing, and physical growth.
Social and Emotional Growth
Playing also supports social and emotional development. Through dramatic and imaginative play, like dressing up and role-playing, children can develop positive and essential social and emotional skills and virtues. Activities of this nature tend to present opportunities to practice how to engage and interact with other people and children, exchange and share ideas, and go through drills of making choices and decisions.
Dramatic and imaginative play also helps build self-confidence by experiencing success and challenges firsthand. It is an effective way to teach young minds about learning to control their emotions in times of adversity, diminish impulsive behavior, and manage stress as they express themselves in certain events that might cause anxiety. Through play, children also develop empathy and a sense of fairness as they improve their interaction with other children.
It is also important to note that these benefits can also be achieved by a novel method called open play, where imagination thrives in providing an entertaining conduit for learning through play.
Playing also provides noteworthy assistance in cognitive development. As children play on their own or with others, cognitive skills and capabilities like thinking, remembering, retaining information, and paying attention are all constantly enhanced.
Through play and a good daily routine, problem-solving skills, imagination and creativity, and recognition of concepts such as shapes, colors, measurement, counting, and letter recall prowess are all developed. It also improves the fortitude of their concentration, persistence, and resilience. Literary and numerical facets are then also heightened as playing requires skills that require thinking, language, interaction, curiosity, and exploration. When it comes to cognitive development, play particularly develops the following skills:
- Enhanced comprehension of words and their use cases
- Speaking and listening skills
- Writing skills through consistent scribbling, painting, and drawing
- Understanding of basic literary principles such as the basic formats (plot, characters, structure, and themes)
- Connotations, denotations, and symbolisms
- Understanding of the intricacies of letters, words, symbols, numerals, and signs and how these devices have a purpose and meaning to others
How Do You Encourage Play?
As parents, guardians, or childcare professionals, you can encourage play by consistently providing resources that reflect children’s ages, interests, knowledge, strengths, abilities, and culture that can act as catalysts that support play.
Educational play doesn’t necessarily rely on cutting-edge machinery or toys. For one, you can focus on resources that encourage open-ended use of items like blocks or cardboard boxes that nourish creativity and the ability to reimagine concepts mentally as children.
It would also help if play is catered according to the needs of every child. Understandably, there are several elements to consider in assessing children’s needs, but it would definitely come a long way when kids’ individual needs, interests, and abilities are taken into consideration for playtime.
What Does a Play-based Approach to Learning Look Like?
As children grow and develop, interests change. That is why it’s important to assess your children’s interests and needs for playtime.
For toddlers, playtime focuses on seeing brightly colored objects such as age-appropriate balls, cars, and blocks. Puzzles, in many varieties, are often a great choice. Toddlers can also enjoy basic art supplies, and props for pretend play.
Play for preschool-age children heavily involves independent exploration. They have started to develop an understanding of the world and their place in it. This is the reason why their playtime is self-driven and has evolved to become structured. It is important for preschoolers to start to socialize to help nurture complete and comprehensive learning through play experience.
Similar to preschoolers, elementary and middle school-age kids are independent in exploring their playtime. It is at this juncture that they start revolving around school-based activities.