Children play. It does not matter where they are or where they may be, they almost always seem to find time to engage in playful activity. It is their natural tendency to open the door to new discoveries. Through playing children learn basic concepts such as colours, numbers, making things and learning how to provide solutions for everyday situations. 

The role of play in child development

The role of play is essential in every child’s growth. It is deemed so vital in a child’s development that it has been included in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, with Article 31 stating that every child has a right “to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts”.  

Studies have shown that play is essential to a child’s progression. As children grow, they achieve developmental milestones that mark their progress in life. With play, they develop mental, emotional, physical and social skills that will prove to be useful as they grow into adults. At an early age, children who engage in either guided or free play activities, develop characteristics that contribute to their well-being.

Key Benefits of Play

Mental development: Play opens up children’s eyes to a world of exploration and adventure. It unlocks their curiosity. It also encourages creative thinking and unleashes their imagination through activities like role playing and pretending. Their ability to observe and absorb the things that happen around them is enhanced. Skills that they need as grown-ups, such as identifying right from wrong and making decisions, will start to be instilled in them through play as well.

Emotional development: Play helps children feel good. They enjoy playing and when children are relaxed, they learn better. They learn how to interact with others and learn skills such as playing fair and following instructions. They also learn how to express themselves better through words and actions. 

Physical development: Playing can also be a means to expend excess energy which in turn, leads youngsters to eat and sleep better. It also builds muscles and develops motor skills, as well as improving balance, endurance, strength and coordination.

Social development: As their cognitive skills are sharpened, so are their social skills. They learn how to listen to instructions, follow directions, and lead a team if needed. Cooperation, teamwork and collaboration with their playmates are exercised. They learn the value of sharing with others, taking turns and observing basic niceties like saying “Thank you” or “Please”.

Playtime is also a wonderful opportunity for children to spend quality time with their parents or family members. With today’s hurried lifestyle, the time for play has been somewhat curtailed and replaced by other activities such as watching television or being immersed in gadgets. By taking time to play with their children, parents can maximise the chance to help facilitate the growth of language skills needed for social and learning experiences later on.

The different kinds of play

Playing takes many forms. Each child is unique and has different styles of self-expression. As they grow, you will observe that they have their own preferences when it comes to playing. It is best to understand what they want so you can better connect with them, and help them learn better.

Mental Play: This kind of play encourages discovery and exploration. They will learn about trial and error, sometimes even repeating an action just to see if it gets the same reaction or result. They will start to enjoy memory games, counting activities, memorising rhymes or telling jokes.

Expressive Play: Creativity is mostly at work with this kind of play. Children will create, build, draw, write, sing, hum, tap, and piece together whatever they can get their hands on. The possibilities for their creations are endless.

Imaginative Play: Dress-up games or charades are much-loved activities where kids can pretend to be someone they admire or aspire to be. They have the chance to try acting out what their active imaginations can conjure up, such as being princesses or superheroes. 

Physical play: This is a more active type of play where children will make use of their physical capabilities. They will crawl, jump, slide, dance, roll and run if given the chance. Wide, open spaces are their haven and children will enjoy activities that make good use of their bursts of energy.

Social Play: At around 3 years old, children will start to look for playmates, preferably their own age. They enjoy playing house, racing and relay games, or assembling blocks together. 

Playing is said to be “child’s work”, so making it fun makes learning more effective. Keeping it informative and entertaining will certainly aid in their development and assist them in grasping more complex concepts as they grow.