Play is more than fun. Play helps children build a range of skills and abilities that will last a lifetime.
Benefits of Play
Children love to play! Have you ever marvelled at the way children can play anytime, anywhere? The instinct to play comes naturally to children. Play is often spontaneous. It might involve toys, dress-ups, music or other props, or revolve around imaginary roles and scenarios. Children see play as fun, and they engage in play simply for the sake of playing.
But the real value of play is that it’s more than just fun. Children learn through play.
Play helps children build social, emotional and intellectual skills.
In this way, play is critical for healthy child development. In play, children have the opportunity to experiment and problem solve, exercise creativity, test boundaries and take risks, communicate, negotiate and cooperate. Play helps children to develop confidence and self-esteem. Play allows children to discover their own interests and helps them make sense of the world around them.
Play can be any activity that children choose, create or initiate themselves.
Play will mean different things to different people. Play is constructing something out of craft materials, household objects or furniture. Play is acting out roles seen in day-to-day life such as shopkeeper and customer or teacher and students. Play is expressing oneself through music, singing, painting or drawing.
Playing with adults is important too.
Playing together strengthens children’s relationships with their parents.
The social interaction encourages communication and helps children and adults better understand one another. Play lets parents, grandparents and other important adults enter into their children’s worlds. There are many ways adults can join children in play. Read together. Bake something. Plant and care for vegetables in the garden. Build a puzzle together. Play card or board games. Go to the park together. Play throw and catch or hide and seek. This time together makes children feel special and shows them they are loved. Play creates memories that will last a lifetime.
Encouraging active play and participation in sport is essential. Active play helps build strong muscles and bones. Being physically active supports brain development in babies and improves concentration and self esteem in children.
It is important and beneficial for children to have some active play every day.
This doesn’t mean going for a jog, or working out at the gym. Active play can include any type of play that involves moving about.
For babies this could be spending a few minutes on their tummy, lifting their head and looking around. It could be crawling around on the living room floor or rolling on the grass watching the trees and clouds above. For older children, active play could be a game of chasey, building a fort out of old cardboard boxes, a play at the park or a bike ride.
Regular activity during childhood leads to a healthy active lifestyle in later life. Toys, playgrounds and sports equipment can encourage children to be physically active. Talk to your child about what they like to play with. Building blocks, balls, frisbees, hula hoops, yo-yos, bicycles, tricycles, scooters, skipping ropes, tennis racquets, and cricket bats can all inspire active play. Swings, slides, monkey bars and climbing frames are also great for active play – try your local park or sports ground.
Playing with a toy activates a child’s brain in a way that computer screens and televisions simply cannot. Toys are tactile, interactive and most importantly, require imagination. Jodie Benveniste, Psychologist and author
These days digital media is increasingly used by children (and adults!). It is important to strike a balance between traditional play and the use of digital media. Research recommends that children over five spend no more than two hours a day in front of a TV, computer or other electronic device. For toddlers, the recommendation is to limit screen time to less than one hour. Any more than this and children can miss out on opportunities for other kinds of play.
Some time engaging with quality digital media can be beneficial. Carefully planned digital media experiences, supported by an adult close by, are ideal. Engage with your child – talk to them about what they are doing and what is happening on the screen, and be available to help or answer questions if needed.
Set a positive example and role model a healthy balance of screen-based and screen-free activities. This may include setting boundaries around media free times (such as the dinner table) and spaces (such as the bedroom). Online safety is also an important consideration. Pay attention to what and who your children are engaging with online, and talk with your children about respect and online safety.