The Importance of Play – the theory behind why play is important
This will probably be as technical as I will become. People have spent years or even decades studying why play is important for a child’s development. Anyone who has ever had a child themselves, or has had a relative or a friend who has a child will all have witnessed children at play, but what may not be so apparent is how important it is to let children be children and to allow them to space and opportunity to play.
Are you serious?
Yes, it is annoying and noisy and messy, yes I have found myself many times walking into a room that my son has (destroyed) been playing in and been tempted to walk straight back out because I just cannot handle that. Still, these moments of play are important, and here is why (I am writing this whilst my son is playing in the background by the way!).
Why is play important?
Through play children get the opportunity to learn, develop, experiment, and make sense of the world around them.
Playing with bricks allows children to practice their fine motor skills, they learned to count/ organise/ build, and they can learn shapes, colours, and sizes.
Playing with sand/ water/ dirt children allows children to not only play but to experience sensations, the feel of sand between their fingers, the sound of water when they drop a toy and it creates a splash, the look of dry dirt after they pour water onto it.
Imaginative play such as shops, doctors & nurses, superheroes all allow children the opportunity to mimic what they see and make sense of it. Children also get to develop all sorts of other skills and whilst fine-tuning skills that they have already developed, it is amazing what imaginative play can show you about what your child have learnt and how they perceive the world.
What do children get through play?
Play can assist with literacy and numeracy skills
Children are hard-wired to learn from little babies and it is a need, which stays with them throughout life (even us adult’s love to play!)
Play gives children the opportunity to communicate with adult’s and children
Play encourages imagination and spontaneity – it is just as important for a child to play make believe as it is for a child to play with stacking cups or puzzles
Play helps children to make choices and make use of the space and resources around them
Adults get a lot from play too!
Yes that’s right, adult’s can also get a lot from play!
Play allows adult’s to gauge what children know and how they perceive the world – you can truly learn how your child sees the world from observing their play, or even better engaging in their play
Play can really test an adult’s patience and understanding, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to play something (say a puzzle) with your child but they decide to play with the pieces not put the pieces together to form the puzzle – allow your child the opportunity to occasionally play the game how they want, one day they will want to play the game ‘properly’.
How does play change throughout the ages?
To a certain extent play can start before birth – your baby following your touch around your stomach, responding to your voice/ music/ light. All these movements and kicks your baby makes as it interacts with you and the environment are all signs of early play, learning, and development.
During the first few months after birth babies learn a lot from studying our faces, they learned to read emotions, they learn the sound of our voices, and they learn how the muscles in our face change to create all different faces and sounds.
Babies during the first month also get a lot from toys that move, such as mobiles as well as toys or books that are in black and white. If your baby has learned to reach out and grab you can also start introducing things such as rattles. A lot of babies early independent play will involve grabbing objects and putting them in their mouth but once they realise that shaking a rattle makes a sound they will enjoy shaking a rattle over and over again, babies learn a lot through repetition.
As babies, gain more control of their limbs as well as gain balance and mobility there becomes a completely new opportunity to further learn and develop. Play will become more sophisticated and advance. Being able to roll, sit, stand, walk all give children them opportunity to see the world and interact with their toys in different ways.
The older your baby gets the more they will start noticing other people and children. Initially your baby will not show much interest in other children, this is completely normal. If you watch a group of babies or young children play, they will all generally be playing their own games next to each other rather than actively playing together. In time however, your baby will start watching other children, mimicking what they do, they may even pass a toy over to them (and then cry because they no longer have said toy), they may then try to talk to the child and it all builds to eventually playing leads to playing with other children (or crying because they have touched their car or put the cake on the wrong plate or is playing schools when your supposed to be playing fire-fighters).
How can I help my child play?
In my opinion, play is not necessarily something you can ‘help’ your child with. Children are made with the inbuilt need to learn and explore through play. You can however supply your child with plenty of opportunities to play in different ways.
- Give your child access to a wide range of toys, materials, books, and activities
- Give children the opportunity to play with other children – if you don’t have any friends or relatives with other children then see if there are any local groups near you or look on social media, there are hundreds if not thousands of groups online where you can meet other mums (or dads), see if anyone is local to you? Alternatively even taking your child to the park or soft play will give them the opportunity to interact with other children
- Give your child the opportunity to play different types of games, imaginative and active play is just as important as structured and learning play
- Interact and talk to your child whilst they play -if they are playing with a toy cow tell them it’s a cow and say moo, as your child gets older ask them what the cow is and if they know what noise a cow makes