The importance of play
Play is truly the ‘work’ of childhood. Offering a child ample opportunities to play in a variety of settings and with a variety of materials is essential to that child's development.
Benefits of play
It facilitates cognitive development by helping a child develop skills in concentration, memory, perseverance, and motivation.
It advances social development. Playing develops simple skills such as taking turns, and more complex skills such as rule making.
Some forms of play afford children the opportunity to face their fears in a non-threatening way through role play. For instance a child who has just returned from a hospital stay may play out this episode many times with his friends. This will help him overcome the fears and anxieties he may have experienced while in hospital.
It provides the ideal opportunity to explore the world without risk. The opportunity to spend many hours exploring their surroundings enables children to get to know their physical surroundings and learn about the world around them.
Children are naturally active and play encourages physical activity. Rough and tumble play and climbing, jumping, and running all contribute to a child's physical development and wellbeing.
Enjoyable play is important to a child's emotional wellbeing. Children who enjoy imaginative play have been shown to be more likely to smile, to be curious, to show an interest in new experiences, and to express joy in play and in peer relationships.
Encouraging your child to play
As a parent there are a number of things you can do to encourage your child to play:
Recognise the importance of play in your child's life. As parents we tend to place a greater emphasis on schoolwork and educational activities. Remember though that your child will also benefit from plenty of unstructured time when he can play either alone or with his friends or yourself.
From a parent's point of view, a small child's play routine can be boring and repetitive. I'm sure you have all had the experience of picking up an object that has been thrown on the floor for the umpteenth time! Your baby is still enjoying it but you’re beginning to feel that he is making fun of you! Actually your child is simply learning about his physical environment and his ability to control it.
Most parents are tempted to use play to teach their child something. While this is appropriate sometimes, you need to beware of doing this too often. For instance, many parents are tempted to make a game more complex in the hope of teaching their child a new skill. Children who learn through play do so when play occurs in a relaxed and non-threatening environment. When you try to consciously teach your child skills through play you may be introducing an element of stress to the game and block your child from learning.
As a parent you will be anxious to provide your child with ample opportunities to play and will be keen to help your child learn through his play. It's interesting to watch children and their parents in toy shops. Children will invariably head towards the toys that can be used in their imaginative play — dolls, action figures, trucks, animals, etc. Parents, on the other hand, will be keener on the more educational toys that guarantee to help your child with vocabulary, reading, etc. While these educational toys do have a role to play, children's constant favourites are equally important.
The simple rule about play is that you must give your child plenty of opportunities to play, and play with him on his level. The home is full of objects that can be used in a variety of ways in play. The sweeping brush can become a pony in the hands of an imaginative child, while a large cardboard box can serve as a den or a rocket ship.
Throughout the ages we have produced plenty of capable, sociable, and loving young people without any specialist toys or equipment. Providing your child with a stimulating and challenging environment where his innate love of learning is encouraged through play is one of the greatest gifts you can give him.
While play changes as children grow, its place in their lives remains important, whether toddler or adolescent.
For more information visit www.RollerCoaster.ie, Ireland’s No 1 website for pregnancy and parenting.