“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” -The Wise and Kind Mr. Fred Rogers
In the digital age, parents often ask me, “What’s so important about play?” or “What are the benefits of play?” Parents are often concerned that their children will learn more by engaging in educational games on a tablet than by engaging in more simple, traditional play with objects and toys. 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. Play can positively impact every single area of children’s development and aids in their overall development. At a very early age, it is through play that children begin to engage and interact with the environment around them; play allows children to create and explore their world. Social games, such as peek-a-boo or patty cake, are some of the earliest forms of play. Children’s play continues to evolve and become more sophisticated, such as imaginative, cooperative play of recreating a classroom where children negotiate their roles. With a little creativity, play provides endless opportunities for learning. Play is a way of doing things—it should be active, adventurous, involved, interactive, meaningful, enjoyable, symbolic, and voluntary.
Major skill areas impacted by play include:
Fine/Gross Motor: Children gain mastery over their gross motor skills before mastering fine motor skills, and play provides endless opportunities to practice both of these skill areas. Playing games of chase, hide-and-seek, or engaging in rough-and-tumble play allows children to exercise their gross motor skills. Building with blocks, playing with a shape sorter, and pushing cars help children practice hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, and fine motor skills.
Speech/Language: Play provides children an opportunity to facilitate the use of their rapidly growing vocabulary from single words to two- to three-word phrases to simple sentences. Communication is not just about the use of words. Nonverbal communication includes eye contact, pointing, gestures, and facial expression. Play with others provides an opportunity to practice all of these skills.
Social/Emotional: Play provides a plethora of opportunities for practicing and developing social and emotional skills. While interacting with others, children learn to read social cues, engage in turn-taking behaviors, and begin developing friendships. Children begin learning the gives-and-takes of relationships, such as negotiating roles and resolving conflicts. They also begin to learn emotional regulation and displaying empathy towards others when they are hurt or upset.
Cognitive: Play supports healthy brain development. It provides countless avenues for children to learn problem-solving skills, exercise their creativity, and practice decision-making strategies. When children are allowed opportunities for success, they gain confidence in their abilities and are encouraged to continue learning and growing.
Play does not have to be complex and expensive. Simple items, such as building blocks, trains, baby dolls, and even a cardboard box, provide opportunities to facilitate skill development. Does your child have difficulty engaging in play? Check out next week’s blog to learn more tips for helping your child engage in positive play.