Early Childhood Play: Benefits and Types

Play has a significant role in the development of children, especially in their early years. Read on to know more.

By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj  • 6 min read

Early Childhood Play: Benefits and Types

“Play is the work of the child,” said Maria Montessori, who propounded the play-way method of learning. Quite true. The best activity that children can engage themselves in is play.

Childhood play

Sally C Hurwitz, in her article titled, ‘To be successful: let them play!’ published in the journal Child Education (2002) makes this statement – “While play may seem like a frivolous activity, it is an important medium for young children's learning. It is a significant contributor to the child's cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development.” 

The benefits of play in early childhood are also mentioned in detail in a study titled ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds’ by author Kenneth R Ginsburg. This 2007 study was published in Pediatrics which is the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Of course, when we say ‘play’ we are referring to good old indoor and outdoor play activities such as playing with toys and building blocks, board games, hide and seek, hop-scotch and so on. This ‘play’ excludes the child burying himself in the couch and being hooked to online games or other gadgets. It is healthy play which proves beneficial for children. So, let us explore the benefits.

The importance of play in the early years

Early childhood play is essential for the overall well-being of your child. The benefits of play in early childhood include the positive impact it has on the cognitive, physical, social and emotional aspects of your child’s development. The importance of play in early childhood is explained in greater detail below:

1. Physical development: When your child is engaged in play, her physical development is ensured. Holding, gripping and grasping toys and other playthings develops her fine motor skills. When it comes to the development of her gross motor skills, a host of activities are involved – running, jumping, skipping, hopping, throwing the ball and other playthings, pulling or lugging the toy cart and other large objects, pedalling that little tricycle of hers, and so on. All these activities make her gain muscular control, balance, better co-ordination between the limbs, and control over body movements.

2. Cognitive development: The brain is as active during play as it is during study. For, play involves focus, concentration, memory power and logical thinking. Also, all childhood play activities – playing with toys, arts and craft, and role-play - stimulate your child’s imagination, creativity and divergent thinking. Thus, play ensures wholesome cognitive development for your child. Several research studies back this up. One such study was done as early as 1949 by Donald O Hebb, the Canadian psychologist. In an experiment, he found that when rats were housed along with toys, it stimulated the growth of their brains, particularly the cerebral cortex, which is associated with learning and memory. Other studies have also supported this finding. However, it has not been possible to duplicate this on human samples on account of scientific ethics.

3. Linguistic development: While playing, children interact with each other. This helps improve their communication skills, especially listening and speaking. Even when they are engaged in pretend play with their dolls, their linguistic skills are involved. When they are engaged in role-play they learn to deliver dialogues with the right tone and voice modulation. Thus, it hones their pronunciation skills. They also pick up new vocabulary as they engage in varied play activities. Therefore, their vocabulary kit expands.

4. Emotional development: Whether it is clapping his hands in glee, clenching his fists in anger or tugging at his hair in frustration, all play activities involve expressing your child’s emotions. Apart from expressing his emotions, your child will also learn to exercise restraint over his emotions and impulses – two important life lessons. Also, while successful completion of a game or winning it can give a ‘high’ to your child, inability to complete or win it will teach him to accept defeat in the right spirit and learn from the experience. This will make him grow up to be an emotionally strong child.

5. Social development: Whether it is games with peers or role-play activities, your child’s interpersonal skills develop. She learns to interact politely with team-mates, extend courtesy to both her own team-mates as well as the opponents, and refrain from rough play. Play activities improve her confidence and self-esteem, and enable her to shed her shyness. While engaged in play, your little one also learns the importance of co-operation and teamwork. And, childhood play also develops the all-important leadership skill in your child. Above all, she learns to be empathetic, which is a very important social skill.

Different types of play in early childhood

Early Childhood Play: Benefits and Types

As children grow, they need to engage in various types of play to increase their opportunities to develop various skills including social, emotional, cognitive, motor and language abilities. These can be either indoor or outdoor play.

Indoor play in early years

Indoor play activities include playing with toys, building blocks, board games, spelling games and jigsaw puzzles.

Also read:

Fun indoor educational games for kids

Useful Educational Indoor Activities For Kids

Outdoor play in early years

Outdoor play activities include hide and seek, hopscotch, hula hoops, balloon toss, and obstacle course. For more outdoor fun games for kids, read:

Water Play Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers

Sand Play Activities For Kids

Keeping all these benefits in mind, allow your child to play and find pleasure and joy in it.

About the author:

Written by Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj, PhD (Eng & Edu) on 4 August 2017; updated on 11 January 2021

The author is an educationist, language specialist and writer. In a career spanning over two decades, she has taught from preschool to B-School and trained teachers, master trainers and software professionals. She is also a former member of curriculum and syllabus development committees (Govt of Tamil Nadu). Her passion for the written word matches her enthusiasm for entertaining little kids by breaking out into nursery rhymes.

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