Imagine if a hard day at work consisted of building sand castles, splashing in puddles, finger painting, a game of hide and seek, some basketball and blowing a few bubbles before clocking off for the day.
And yet for young children, this would be a solid (and quite exhausting) day’s toil. The funny thing is that the more parents can see this from our child’s point of view, the more fun and benefits we can all gain by making time to play with our children.
WHY IS PLAY SO IMPORTANT FOR KIDS?
Play is children’s 'work', because it’s how they develop their minds and bodies to their fullest potential.
Games and play may appear to be just entertainment, but for children they have important social, psychomotor and behavioural rewards. Through play, children develop their cognitive skills, and it takes quite an effort on their part as they learn about things like:
- Colours, shapes, quantities, cause and effect;
- Social skills such as taking turns, fair competition and empathy;
- Physical skills like running, jumping, and balancing as they discover the limits and possibilities of their body;
- Fine motor skills such as using scissors and pencils;
- Verbal skills including listening and speaking, developing their vocabulary and knowledge of grammar and sentence structure.
Play and games can also expose children to a full range of emotions: everything from anger, fear, grief, and anxiety to curiosity, joy and excitement. Pretend play also allows the free expression of ideas and emotions, which is an important part of building self-identity. And through play, children also learn to think in different ways as they experience a sense of wonder, develop a sense of humour, and derive satisfaction from solving simple problems.
OBSERVING THE CHANGES
If you watch children playing, you’ll notice that as they grow, their way of playing changes:
- Young children usually start out by doing independent and solitary activities, then move on to what’s called 'parallel play', where they’re doing the same thing as the child or children next to them, but without getting involved in the others’ games.
- During the pre-school stage, children begin to play more in groups, having the same objective or theme, but without being able to establish many rules or formally organise themselves.
- By the end of the pre-school stage, it’s common to observe more collaborative games, where the group is organised, there’s at least one leader and the children are clearly either in or out of the group.
As kids are exposed to more technology and pressured to start formal education at an earlier age, this affects the spontaneity of play and games. As well as playing structured games or having a specific goal, what’s called 'free play' is important. It’s important, therefore, to encourage kids to play at home too – and to join in sometimes yourself!