We are all experts in play. Whether it’s memories of our own childhood, recent experiences, or plans in the near future, play forms part of all our lives.
Parents, grandparents and teachers see play every day. Health professionals and toy industry experts also think a lot about the importance of play. We talked with a number of people who see the value of play in their day-to-day lives and asked them to share their thoughts. Here’s what they had to say.
Play Expert Fiona – Kindergarten Director
With more than twenty years’ experience working in early childhood learning I am often asked about play. Play is beneficial in so many ways. Play nourishes a child’s growth and forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills. These skills are necessary for success in school and life.
Play is essential for optimal development and research shows that play enhances every aspect of children’s development and learning.
Children need opportunities for self -directed and uninterrupted play. We work hard to create environments that stimulate, provoke curiosity and are rich in open-ended possibilities, and which encourage collaboration. Children construct knowledge and develop richer understandings about their world as they share them with others. Play allows children to make sense of their experiences and discover the joy of friendship and teamwork.
We think of play as an expression of freedom, it is about what the child has chosen to do as opposed to what they may be obliged to do. When a child determines what they want to play they are fostering creativity and flexibility in thinking. They are not encumbered with the right or wrong way.
It doesn’t matter if play is conducted primarily for its own sake; attention is focused on the means not the end. Sometimes it can have goals but they are experienced as an intrinsic part of the game not the sole reason for the game.
Play is guided by mental rules; has a structure, which is derived from the rules in the child’s mind. In this way children can learn how to deal constructively with conflict. In this sense a child may have a goal in their mind but the primary objective is the creation, the problem solving and the higher order thinking that the child needs to engage in to bring the play to the end of the game or the culmination of the creative product. ~ Fiona, Director of Lauriston Kindergarten
Play Expert Megan – School Teacher and Mum
One of the greatest joys as a Mum of three young children, has been watching the way the kids play change as they grow. Seeing them as babies delight in posting their first blocks, as toddlers hearing the first chatter of imaginative play, and as pre-schoolers sitting down for the first time to play a board game. Absolutely magic milestones that show a whole world of play, fun and learning opening up at each precious stage.
Any teacher or childhood professional will tell you about the importance of play in fostering sensory exploration, fine and gross motor skills, literacy, numeracy skills and most of all a sense of fun and wonder about the world. Through play kids learn about sharing, turn taking, flexibility and so much more. As a parent in a busy household you relish the moments when your kids can happily play independently or with siblings. However, I’ve learnt that play sometimes needs a little encouragement and that kids can require some ‘invitations to play’ to get their creativity and imaginations firing. It might mean dragging out a box of trains that haven’t been touched in a while, setting up a craft activity or reimagining toys in a new way (like sticking a duplo mat on the wall to make vertical Lego!)
The best thing about having kids is the licence it gives you to be a kid yourself.
I’ve noticed kids take their play cues from adults. They love the moments when you get down on the floor and join a tea party, practice your colouring-in or make a pillow fort together. The best advice I’ve been given as a parent is that your kids aren’t going to remember how tidy your house was but they will remember the days of play where you made a mess together! ~ Megan, Teacher and Mum
Play Expert Andrew – Grandparent
In such a busy world, parents of young children can feel time-poor, but as a grandparent approaching retirement age, there’s so much opportunity to participate in my grandchildren’s lives. And play is the simplest way to do that. My 3.5-year-old grand daughter loves role-play and with just a handful of leaves as money, and sticks as ice creams we can instantly have a pop-up shop that involves dialogue, counting, negotiation and agreement. The social interaction between us occurs so naturally and is very rewarding for both of us.
There’s lots we love to do together from reading a book, cutting and pasting pictures from the newspaper, to going out to play at the park or on the beach.
And sharing a treat along the way can be a bit of fun too! Playing with my grandchildren is so important to me. I am sure I get just as much out of it as they do!~‘Pa’
Play Expert Alexandra – Dietitian
Play is the ideal way for children to be physically active. Regular physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight, strengthens bones and muscles, and helps with sleep and relaxation. We see too many children spending the majority of their time indoors, in front of screens. This means they miss out on all the benefits of an active lifestyle.
Active play helps children form relationships with their friends. Regular activity can be great for family bonding too. Whether it is organised sport, a weekend afternoon at the park, or a game of hide and seek inside on a rainy day, active play is an ideal opportunity for children to spend time with friends and family. Physical activity can also be built in to the daily routine. This could mean walking or riding to school, or taking the dog to the park as a family.
It doesn’t matter what types of active play you and your children choose, as long as you make time for it most days. Everyone who joins in will enjoy the physical and psychological benefits. The rewards will be well worth it. Being physically active in childhood can help build healthy active habits for life.~ Alexandra, Dietitian
Play Expert Peta – Toy Developer
Considering how children play is always the ultimate starting point when developing any toy. Regardless of whether we’re developing products that are targeted towards education, collecting or role-play – the way a child interacts with any toy is always a major focus.
Children’s toys are all about imagination & play. Even if we are developing an educational toy that promotes dexterity and co-ordination, play is still the main focus so that the child is enjoying the experience.
A perfect example of this is an interactive toy that we recently developed. The toy comes with a zipper on its jumper, shoe laces to practice tying a bow, and can recite the alphabet and count to ten. This toy was developed with the specific idea of making learning fun through play. My hope is that this toy can help children learn and prepare to dress themselves all whilst playing.
Toy development will always need to understand & focus on children’s play patterns in order to continue to create products that are successful for all children. Designing products that embrace play is the only way to capture children’s interest and enhance their growing minds.~ Peta, Toy Development Manager