Written by Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj and published on 06 June 2021.
Free play and structured play have a significant role in the development of children, especially in their early years. Get to know why you must encourage your child to play.
"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.
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 on the couch and being hooked to online games or other gadgets. It is a healthy play that proves beneficial for children. So, let us explore the benefits.
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 develop 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, pedaling that little tricycle of hers, and so on. All these activities help her gain muscular control, balance, better coordination between the limbs, and control over body movements.
2. Cognitive development: The brain is as active during play as it is during the study. For, play involves focus, concentration, memory power and logical thinking. Also, all childhood play activities - playing with toys, arts and crafts, 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 to play with their dolls, their linguistic skills are involved. When they are engaged in role-playing 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 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, the inability to complete or win the game 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 teammates, extend courtesy to both her own teammates 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 cooperation 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.
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 activities include playing with toys, building blocks, board games, spelling games and jigsaw puzzles.
Keeping all these benefits in mind, give your child enough and more time to play and find pleasure and joy in it.