Why is play essential to a child’s well-being and what are the different kinds of play? Research on free play has shown that play is essential to a child’s development. It contributes to the cognitive (problem solving), physical, social and emotional well-being of children. Play allows children to be creative, while developing their imagination and enhances their abilities that involve physical, cognitive and emotional strengths. Play is essential to healthy brain development. It is through play that children learn at a young age to interact with the world. Parents can be a part of that world. Take time each day, even if it’s twenty minutes, to play whatever the child wants to play. Use it as a teaching moment to share, negotiate and role play with your child. Below there are different types of play. Each provides a different set of skills, but all are just as important.
Playing with toys
Children love to play with toys. An infant will often put a toy in his mouth or bang it on the table in discovery. As a child grows, they will learn how to play with the toy along with learning to share. Toys are a wonderful way for kids to use their imagination. Like when a child role plays while playing with a doll house. Whether it’s a boy or a girl it’s really neat to watch them roll play. My daycare kids love playing with the Duplo Legos. They built boats, airplanes, cars, houses, towers and food for their restaurants, just to name a few. It was great to see all the ideas they came up with.
Sharing is another great benefit of playing with toys. Children learn to share with their friends. Patience is another great benefit. If there was only one toy and it couldn’t be shared, then the child would have to wait till it was their turn. When children play together they learn that sharing and being patient and waiting their turn is important. Negotiating is another benefit. Often time kids will decide the guidelines of the games they are creating. Going back and forth with ideas until the guidelines are figured out. This is a great way to build relationships while playing with others.
This type of play allows children to role play and work on their social skills. Playing dress up, role playing and using their imagination develops communication and language skills. It also helps to relieve stress and anxiety because the child is in the moment and can give them an opportunity to work through their anxiety and fears. Having dress up clothes and accessories is a great way for this to happen. At Miss Karen’s Place, we have different themes every two weeks. One of the kid’s favorites is “People in the Neighborhood”. They can dress up as a police officer, a firefighter, a mail person, a vet, a doctor, a construction worker, a chef and even a UPS driver. It is so much fun to watch them interact together and see the different ideas they come up with. Whether they are rescuing someone, making a delivery or cooking up some concoction in the kitchen their imaginations are allowing them to explore different potential roles in life.
One fun idea the kids came up with was playing restaurant. The kids would decide what food would be on the menu and made up menus with both words and pictures. There would be customers with money to pay. There were waiters or waitresses and of course the Chef or Chefs. We even incorporated that play into our lunches we had as a group. We would sit them one at a time and I would yell order up and we would have a waiter to serve the food. At the end we would give them a bill and they would pay us. This lasted most of the summer. The kids loved every minute of it.
Physical play is important in building motor skills and emotional intelligence. Climbing, jumping, running and playing help children to learn to take risks, building confidence in a safe environment. Exercise helps build muscles in the legs, arms and the body. This helps with balance and coordination. Whether your child is part of a team or just loves to be play alone, this is a great way to build gross motor skills. Playing tag, climbing on a climber or crossing the monkey bars, all promote a healthy body and brain. Team sports are a great way to build social and emotional skills too. It’s a good way of learning to handle winning or losing a game.
Outdoor play uses all of the child’s senses to build spatial recognition, develop balance and improve attention span. Studies show when children are allowed to go out for recess they have increased attention spans. Giving children time to release some anxiety of the day can help students focus when going back to class. Studies further state children who have more recesses see more academic success as they get older. Physical exercise is always a great way to relieve stress and can increase happiness. It builds feelings of empathy, increases creativity and teamwork. This can be useful for adults too. Many adults are now adding exercise into their day. Adding it into our children’s lives is just as important.
Giving your children lots of opportunities to play will help them to grow into healthy, creative, happy adults. So if your child asks you to play, join them and become a part of their growth and development. Most of all make memories with them they will never forget.
Your children can enjoy one or all of these types of play and they provide great benefits. Whether a child is learning to build relationships, reduce anxiety, learning to share, practicing their negotiating skills or just plain having fun. Playing is the “real work” of children.