“Come chase me mommy,” my four year-old son hollered, as he ran across the driveway this evening. He laughed as I started running after him and never could quite “catch” him. Our impromptu game didn’t last very long, but it was a moment I won’t soon forget because it reminded me again why it is important for children to play.
Yes, I said PLAY.
PLAY….that four letter word that has been somewhat controversial, especially in schools.
PLAY….a rite of childhood that every youth should experience.
PLAY….an activity that children need opportunity to do each day.
So, why is it important for children to play?
Well, according to a clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.”
Simply put, play is vital to your children’s overall development. It is essential in helping your children on their journey to becoming a well-rounded adult.
Play enhances each of the following components of children’s development:
Psst…It’s time to get technical!
1. Cognitive Development
Healthy brain development happens when neuron connections in the brain are strengthened.
Experimenting and problem solving promote these connections that otherwise may have weakened or disappeared.
When I taught Kindergarten, the perception was that my student’s played with blocks most of the time.
I would tell them that unfortunately, my students only got to play in the block center about 30 minutes a week. All the demands of curriculum significantly reduced the amount of time spent building.
I always wished my students had more time to play with blocks because they are wonderful for higher level thinking. When children build with blocks, they often have to figure out how to make structures that won’t fall.
They have to think on a higher level in order to come up with a plan and then test the plan. Thinking on a higher level strengthens the neuron connections I was talking about earlier.
This video shows children playing with blocks and trying to figure out how to build a bridge that won’t fall down. You can practically see their little neurons connecting as they try so hard to solve this problem.
2. Physical Development
The spontaneous game of chase I played with my son was a perfect example of how play helps children (and adults) be physically fit and healthy.
We were both running which was good cardio exercise for both of us. It also helped strengthen our muscles, balance and coordination.
Before our game of chase, we threw a Frisbee back and forth to each other. My son doesn’t quite yet know how to throw a Frisbee correctly, but he still benefited from the exercise.
Anytime children can get outside to run or play on playground equipment, they will have the opportunity to help their physical development.
Remember, the time you spend with your kids playing outside doesn’t have to be long. Just have fun and get some fresh air and exercise. You and your children will both benefit.
3. Language Development
This is the one area of development that the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t mention. Even though, it didn’t make the list, play can definitely help children’s language development.
Often times when children play by themselves, they will make the appropriate noises that the toys they play with make.
My son likes to play with his car transporter. As he pushes it around the carpet, he makes the interpretation of what he thinks the truck sounds like.
This helps his language development because he is able to imitate sounds that he hears around him.
Sometimes when children play alone, they play with imaginary friends and usually have conversations with them.
When children play with other kids, they have to communicate in order to get along and accomplish the tasks they are doing while playing.
Communication with other people help build and develop children’s vocabulary as well.
All conversations (either during solitary play or interactive play) are good for practicing words, sentences and overall language structure.
4. Social Development
When playing with someone else, children have to learn to interact with them. This close up interaction is important to help children know how to work in groups, share, take turns and solve problems.
Kids need to develop social skills that will help them to thrive in any social situation they experience. The more they play with other kids (or even adults), the more they will learn and hone necessary social skills.
Quite often, my one year-old daughter will grab my cell phone, hold it up to her ear and pretend to talk on it.
Children love to experiment and role-play what they see adults doing. Role-playing social experiences and interactions with others, helps children develop healthy social skills.
5. Emotional Development
Children experience a lot through interactions with their caregivers, teachers and peers. Playing gives them a safe place to identify and express their feelings as a result of interactions, experiences and situations in their lives.
Watch your child play sometime (preferably when he doesn’t know you are watching) and more than likely you will see him role-play interactions he has had with you.
I have often seen my son act out recent experiences and I see up close how he perceives me. It’s a look in the mirror that I don’t always want to see because sometimes I see that I may have hurt him unintentionally with my words or actions.
Reliving our interactions via play helps my son better understand what he has experienced. It also is a way for him to process the experience and express his feelings toward the experience.
Allowing your children opportunities to act out and relive experiences will help their emotional health tremendously.
Provide lots of opportunities for play
Play helps children develop cognitive, physical, language, social and emotional skills. It provides an outlet for children to process what they see and experience around them.
In a world that is constantly changing, the importance of play becomes even more vital.
Now that you understand why it is important for children to play, make sure you opportunity for them to do it every day.
You may wonder how you provide children with time to play, when there are so many other things demanding your time and attention.
Stay tuned! An article addressing how to find time to play will be coming soon!
One tip in the meantime: Even small bits of time are better than no time at all. Look at your schedule and see when you can fit in time to let your children play! They will benefit immensely!