Adults sometimes underestimate the importance of play for children. They often think of it as a waste of time that achieves nothing of importance for the child. However, many realize that human beings do much of their learning through play, especially children who learn best when they are having fun. Play helps children develop into healthy and productive adults.
The best form of play varies from child to child, but the goal of play is always the same: Have fun. From birth, humans begin playing with wriggles as a newborn to constructing houses with little wooden blocks as toddlers. With maturity, our imaginations become our most powerful tool when playing. We may set up complex rules for games, create puppet shows, or indulge in fantasy. The importance of such play for children can be seen in many ways. Even though the purpose of a child’s playtime is to have fun, play also provides tangible benefits such as enhanced and accelerated development. When a child skips rope or swings on monkey bars, that child is developing motor skills and physical dexterity. When children kick a ball across the playground, they are developing coordination and improving balance. When children play with pickup sticks or draw with crayons, they are learning to manipulate small objects and are perfecting their fine motor skills.
Children also improve their linguistic skills while playing through rhymes, songs, and games built around words. All of these help a child develop vocabulary and a better understanding of the structure of language. Reasoning out problems and developing game plans also expand cognitive abilities, allowing children to gauge what is important and what is not in any situation. Central to the importance of play is that it allows children to plan, create strategies, and select from a range of choices while working toward a goal.
Another important benefit of play is improved social skills. These include communication skills and the ability to cooperate with others. How else can children learn about teamwork and cooperation early in life if not with play? In the process, children also begin to understand the children around them, which helps to develop empathy and a sense of camaraderie. In addition, when children play, they understand that social rules exist and that they need to conform to interact successfully with others.
A great deal of a child’s play takes place in the mind. Playing is about abstract ideas and concepts. Few things are more powerful and helpful in the development of a child’s mind than the ability to indulge in fantasy role-playing and similar games. When a child takes abstract ideas, imagery, and other components and assembles them in a new way, either in art, a story, or a game, that child is developing creative abilities that will prove invaluable throughout life.
Sadly, a number of things may get in the way of children playing. One of these is television. Watching television is an entirely inactive and non-participatory activity that, unlike play, may waste an enormous percentage of children’s daily lives. The average child spends more than an entire day each week passively watching television. These are hours that can be much better spent interacting with others, reading, creating, imagining, and of course playing. Even the best TV educational programming is not as effective as simple play in developing a child’s mind.
Another major factor that interferes with children playing are the adults in their lives. Children are frequently over-managed and overwhelmed by the expectations of adults. From their school schedule and afterschool programs to sports teams and family commitments, virtually every moment of the child’s day may be highly structured by parents or caretakers. However, adults who understand the importance of play for children encourage unstructured time for “unmanaged” play — a gift of a lifetime.
About the author:
David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Superior Playgrounds in Carrollton, GA. Superior Playgrounds, is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to many industries, with its roots deep in the park and playground markets including churches, schools, and day care centers. It has developed into the only company in its field to offer direct to all of its customers, the ability to purchase outdoor playgrounds, shelters, shade, indoor playgrounds, water slides and site amenities. Connect with SII on LinkedIn or Facebook.