We live in more hurried and pressured times and more often than not, we don’t get the time we would like to spend playing with our children. Understanding the importance of play for your child can help you to ensure that they grow up healthy and strong in every way.
Not only is play fun, it’s also critical to your child’s cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. Kids learn a lot about themselves and the world around them through play.
Play also helps you, as a parent, engage and bond more with your child. As your child grows older, it gives you the opportunity to participate in shared interests which further strengthens the bond between you.
Let’s delve into some of the reasons why play is so important for your child.
Play Improves Your Child’s Cognitive Development
Many parents don’t realize it, but giving your child plenty of free time to play actually improves their cognitive development.
When playing, children stretch their imaginations, use their creativity in diverse ways and find a variety of ways to solve problems. They develop and fine tune their thinking skills without even realizing it.
Give your two year old a large cardboard box and they will see potential in the box that you might never even imagine! They will turn it into a fort, a house, a space ship, a pirate ship, a boat or a cave. For your child, the possibilities are endless! And you too can join in the fun and share their creative vision.
Give your child a set of building blocks and they build empires, with themselves as both the rulers and subjects!
Through play, kids learn how to solve problems, improve their memory and increase the speed at which they process information. And sometimes simple, more basic toys encourage them to think harder to find creative ways to play, further enhancing their cognitive skills.
For older children, things like puzzles and science toys challenge them and ignite their reasoning, problem solving and cognitive skills.
Play Increases Your Child’s Physical Strength And Dexterity
Active play helps your child build physical strength and dexterity. Running, jumping, bike riding and other activities, help your child develop both gross and fine motor skills.
Certain play activities such skateboarding, walking on stilts and jumping on a pogo stick all help your child improve their balance, coordination and core strength. Those types of activities also serve to strengthen your child’s immune system, leaving them healthier and happier.
Stacking and building toys help infants and toddlers improve their fine and gross motor skills. These toys, along with push, pull and ride on toys also help improve and develop your child’s muscle and joint strength.
Outdoor play has a huge role in helping your child increase their dexterity and physical development. Even old favorites like hide and seek and hopscotch will all contribute to your child’s ongoing development.
And of course, there are some major healthy benefits to fresh air and exercise, including strengthening your child’s immune system and cardiovascular health.
Play Improves Your Child’s Social And Emotional Development
In this day and age, kids are under a great deal of pressure to perform academically, to abide by school and household rules and to perform in sports and other extracurricular activities. All the pressure can create stress and anxiety for kids of all ages. In addition, younger children have difficulty understanding and talking about their emotions.
Play allows your child to act out what they are feeling, which helps them to learn how to express and cope with those feelings. This, in turn, helps them expand and improve their emotional health. Play also allows your child to recharge their batteries, leaving them feeling stronger and better able to tackle new challenges.
Toys such as tea party sets and activities like playing games that involve sharing will help your child improve their social skills and their ability to express themselves emotionally when playing with others.
Kids experience all kinds of things when they’re playing and all of these experiences help your child develop emotional strength that allows them to cope better going forward.
They help build a solid foundation for your child so they can grow into an emotionally stable adult.
Other Important Benefits of Play For Your Child
While play can produce all the benefits we’ve already mentioned, it also provides your child with other benefits that will help them perform better in school and in life.
Here are some of the other benefits of play:
Development Of Language And Communication Skills
Playing with siblings, friends, and parents involves communication, which helps your child develop their language skills. Kids pick up new words and learn their meanings from speaking with a variety of different people. They also learn how to use words in the right context.
They learn how to describe things in a certain way, how to ask for things they need or want and how to express what they are feeling. On top of that, they begin to tap into how other people are feeling through listening to how others express themselves.
When children play in a group, they expand their communication skills and broaden their language skills.
Building Confidence And Self-Esteem
Play is a great way for a child to build their confidence and self-esteem. By being free to explore, your child will develop their problem solving skills which helps them build confidence.
It also encourages them to try even more new things, building their self-esteem through the success they have.
When your toddler walks a few steps with the aid of their push toy, their confidence grows. Sure they fall down, but the excitement of having walked those few steps, together with your encouragement, gives them the confidence to get up and try again!
The same thing applies with puzzles for toddlers and older children. When they finish their first puzzle, they feel elated. Their self-esteem grows and they feel confident enough to try a new puzzle, maybe one with more pieces.
Playing with other children also helps develop their self-esteem and confidence. Being part of a group teaches your child important things like how to share, communicate, lead and support. Those are all wonderful life skills that help shape your child’s growth and development.
Development Of Social Skills
Children learn how to socialize with others through many types of play. Playing with others not only teaches your child valuable social skills, it also teaches them how to pick up on non-verbal cues from others.
They learn how to show empathy, be generous, be helpful, how to participate in group activities and how to problem solve. Play teaches your child how to cooperate with others to reach a common goal and even how to take a leadership role. It also allows them to communicate their own wants and needs.
Groups activities such as sports, board games, doing large puzzles and playing with building toys can all go a long way to improving your child’s social skills.
The social skills that your child learns through play from a young age will form the basis of relationships they will develop as they grow older.
Development Of Negotiation Skills
When your child engages in play with other children and adults, they learn the art of negotiation. Some of them become quite good at it!
They learn how to negotiate many things including rules for various activities such as pretend play, which games they want to play and what toys they and others will play with.
The negotiation skills they learn through play then carry over into their everyday life as they become quite adept at negotiating with their parents. How many times has your child tried to negotiate to stay up a few extra minutes before going to bed?
Or how about the times your child has attempted to negotiate not eating certain foods at meal time.
And how many times has your child successfully negotiated a treat or a bit of money for a job well done?
These negotiation skills are ones your child will acquire initially through play and will learn through observing others while playing.
Adopting Adult Behavior And Roles
Children learn how to behave as an adult by watching their parents and other adults. They love to mimic what they observe through their play.
For example, little girls in particular will observe everything their mother does with their newborn baby brother or sister. They will then copy that behavior when playing with their own dolls, soothing, nurturing and even singing the same lullaby to their doll.
Your child will take on adult roles through pretend play and this allows them to learn basic adult skills. Play kitchens, toy grocery carts, and tea party sets are all great examples of toys your child will use for role-playing and emulating what they’ve seen you and other adults do.
Learning Self Control
Children learn to control themselves and their actions through play. It’s not always easy and sometimes it takes time for them to learn but play is an excellent way for them to learn self control.
For example, if your child is playing with others, they have to learn to wait their turn and not get distracted while they wait.
Certain games help to teach kids about self control. The old classic game of ‘Freeze’ is one such example. Kids dance and move around when the music is playing, but the minute the music stops they have to freeze.
This can be a challenge initially for kids, as they get caught up in the moment and excitement of it all. But as they get older and are exposed to different situations over and over, they become better at controlling themselves.
Another area which your child will learn self control is in how they express and cope with their emotions. If a child is playing a game with others, they can become upset if they lose or if it’s not going their way.
Over time, and with the help of their parents, kids learn to manage their emotions and behavior better when playing games with a win or lose outcome.
How To Encourage Your Child To Play
There are lots of great ways for you to encourage your child to engage in play. Here are some suggestions that may prove helpful:
- Make sure your child has some free time each day. Having free time that allows your child to play however they want, resulting in a healthier and happier child. In addition, it’s a good idea to give your child the opportunity to engage in solitary play as well as playing with others.
- Give your child simple, open ended toys. By giving your child toys such as building blocks, dolls, and other simple toys, you will encourage them to use their imagination during play time.
- Establish a family game night. Family game nights are great fun and offer a variety of different ways to play, including board games, building toys, word games, imagination games and much more. Allowing your child to choose the toys or games they want you all to play with makes them want to participate and encourages them to play.
- Encourage active play. In this day and age, kids of all ages love playing video games. And while those have their place, active play, including spending time outside, is also very important in your child’s development. Encouraging your child to disconnect from technology and engage in some active play every day will allow your child to burn off steam and helps increase their physical health.
- Offer your child variety of toys. Ideally you want your child to play with all kinds of toys because each type of toy helps them in different ways. So it’s a good idea to offer them a variety of toys including some that are open ended, some that take concentration and some that have rules to follow. Different toys develop different skills so the more variety you can offer, the more skills your child will be able to develop.
- Cater to your child’s individual interests. When purchasing toys for your child to play with, try and choose toys that your child is interested in. By choosing toys that interest your child, you can encourage them to engage more in play.
More and more, experts are proving just how important playing is to the healthy development of your child. Giving your child adequate time to explore through play will help them develop into a healthier, happier and more well adjusted person as they grow up.