Why play is important for children’s development
The importance of play in a child’s development
Play is vital for child development. Whether it’s playing with cars and trains, building with blocks or playing with a toy shop or kitchen, this is how children use their imaginations and develop physically and mentally.
It is through play that children discover themselves and the world they are part of, mastering new skills, building resilience and self-confidence, learning social skills and empathy, and developing physically.
It is through play that children conquer their fears, learn how to share and negotiate, figure out what their bodies are capable of and express their emotions and desires.
Playing is an integral part of cognitive development, social and emotional development and physical development.
It is through play in the early years that children learn about cause and effect, develop the fine motor skills they will need to hold a pen, independently solve their first problems and learn to think for themselves.
What is playing?
Play is what children do when they are not being told what to do by adults, it’s a time when they get to follow their own interests and explore their imaginations but that doesn’t mean that grown-ups can’t be great playmates, we just have to let children lead.
Playing should be all about fun, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have huge developmental benefits. Children learn through observing, doing and imagining.
Skills learnt through play
Skills learnt through play include cognitive skills, language, social skills, and problem-solving.
By assigning roles and acting out stories they discover different perspectives, learn empathy and organise their thoughts. By re-imagining objects as other things, they gain cognitive flexibility and creativity, a skill they will need their entire lives. And by developing situations and solving problems as they arise children build resilience and learn to think for themselves.
Building a tower with blocks requires both fine and gross motor skills, spatial awareness, and the ability to recognise and solve problems. Struggling to build the tower as high as they would like, or not being able to climb as high as they want to at the play park, teaches resilience, while finally achieving their goals builds self-confidence and increases independence.
When children play together they practise conversation and listening skills, they learn to negotiate, to take turns, to share and to cooperate.
While role play games help children to understand the world around them, give them experiences of being in another person’s shoes, and can be used to prepare them for situations they may be unfamiliar with thus reducing anxiety.
Play is also often very active and so therefore great for physical as well as cognitive development. Running, jumping, climbing and pretending to be an aeroplane, launch a space rocket or be a superhero all enhance gross motor skills while pretending to cook, put on bandages or arrange shop shelves promote fine motor skills.
Different types of play help children learn in different ways. Roleplay, for instance, has different benefits to constructive play. We look more at the benefits of pretend play shop here.