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“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein.
Though play might look as something entirely fun and useless; a waste of time that gets us away from serious business. In fact, for kids, play IS learning. Through play, kids pick up all sorts of skills that will be vital to them later in life.
For kids, everything is a game, and it is the way they learn best. We adults, can probably learn something from the way that kids use play.
Why is play important?
Why is play important: 1. Physical development
While they play, kids also move around in ways that teach them about their bodies and their environments. They run, jump and crawl to evade monsters. They climb to save the princess, or to conquer a mountain. All of these things help them get to know their bodies better. It teaches them how their bodies move and where the different body parts are and what they do.
You know how you can touch the tip of your nose without looking at it?
Or how you can climb down a ladder and put your foot on the step without looking?
All of that was learned through play.
Play also supports physical development in kids because they practice hand-eye co-ordination. For instance when they clean up their toys, or when they build a block tower.
They also learn visual discrimination through play.
In the beginning, it’s very difficult for the brain to interpret what it sees. It cannot tell whether the shape it sees is part of the background, or an object in the foreground. And is that red, or orange? Play helps kids to learn all of these differences when they have to pick up objects or color sort in a game.
Quick wee side note: Because I know how hard it can be to come up with fun games each time, I’ve created a 7-day challenge for parents of toddlers and preschoolers. This is a great way to get started if you’ve fallen out of the habit of playing with your kids, or to learn about fresh ideas and activities.
Each day for 1 week, you will receive an e-mail with an activity that you can do with your kids. Join the newsletter and start your 7 days of play today!
Why is play important: 2. Emotional and Social development
Kids who play together, develop emotional and social skills. They do this by pretending to be someone else for a while and imagine what that is like. This helps them to understand the emotions that come with being in different shoes than your own.
At the same time, play supports social development because kids have to interact with each other. They have to agree which game to play. Which rules to use.
Anyone who has ever seen kids play together, has seen how much negotiation is involved. And how much argument. This too is important, as it teaches kids how to resolve differences and how to communicate with others. It also teaches them to have some measure of control over their emotions when things don’t go their way.
Why is play important: 3. Cognitive development
When kids play, they come up with an imaginative world that is based on their past experiences and the things they have learned. You’ll often hear kids count to themselves as they play, or teach their dolls the colors. It’s this playful repetition and re-interpretations that helps kids to learn.
Imagination and make-belief also helps kids to think in an abstract manner. They use pictures they have created in their minds of what things should be like and re-enact them.
By using the things they find in their environment, such as books, crayons and blocks, they also get the opportunity to develop their literacy and math skills.
Additionally, kids will inevitably run into some challenges when they play. They want a block but they can’t reach, or don’t know where it is. Allowing them to work together and find their own solutions, teaches them to share ideas and develop problem-solving skills. And, hopefully, some common sense to boot.
Why is play important: 4. Language development
In order to play and to re-enact their ideas, kids have to be able to explain what it is that they want to do. This is especially important when they play with other kids or caretakers. But even when they play alone, kids will talk out loud to their toys.
They learn to describe things as well as to ask questions and listen to the answers. Their vocabularies grow as they incorporate new words that they’ve learned. Their understanding expands as they learn how to organize their thoughts better.
In just a few minutes of conversation, kids will hear hundreds of words and dozens of sentences. All of this feeds into their language skills.
Why is play important: 5. Incidental learning
Some lessons are difficult to learn in a deliberate setting. Play, by default, is a form of incidental learning that teaches kids all sorts of lessons about life, emotions and everything they’ll encounter on their path in a relaxed and informal setting.
This has several advantages, one of them that kids learn things without even noticing. The teachings just sneak in, as it were.
Another advantage of incidental learning and learning through play is that learning takes place at a very fast rate. You may have noticed it yourself: things you enjoy you will learn much quicker.
Why play is important: 6. Bonding with loved ones
It may not be so obvious at first, but challenge yourself to play with you kids regularly. Say one or two games every day of the weekend. Or a game just before dinner or bed each day. Read to them every evening before they go to sleep.
All these games mean special time with your child.
You see, to kids, special time doesn’t have to be all that special. To them, special time means you are with them, for the full 100%. That’s special enough for them, and it’s exactly what you’d do when you play with them.
After just a week of regular play, you will notice that the bond between you and your child has deepened.
Why play is important – conclusion
Play feeds into all of these areas, and helps kids develop the skills they will use for the rest of their lives.
Though kids need to rest as well (yes, they do) they definitely need to play to grow into the adults they were meant to be. Play is how kids develop into happy, productive adults.
So don’t expect your kids to sit still and be quiet. And though I’m not against screens (they do come in handy) be careful with them and always make sure there is plenty of opportunity to play around. If your kids are anything like mine, they will jump at the opportunity to play rather than to watch a screen.
Play is the best way to support your child’s development.
Take up the challenge and start your 7 days of play!