Why Play Matters

As a busy parent, or parent-to-be, you may feel like it’s a long time since you last played.  Since you last got lost in an imaginative, creative world of make believe and exploration.  The day-to-day, Monday to Friday of work tends to get in the way of play for adults.

But, for kids, play is crucial.  Play is learning for children.  It’s the way children, go to work, building up resources for a positive future.  Adults day-to-day often includes earning money to pay for their own and their family’s needs.  For kids, day-to-day play is a crucial investment in their future.  Stimulating, quality play pays dividends in terms of physical, mental, and emotional development.  For your child, play is serious business!  

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Let’s take a look at some of the many benefits of play to better understand its importance for children’s development.  

  • Co-ordination:  As babies reach for objects to hold them they begin to develop the hand-eye co-ordination that is essential for exploring and making sense of the world, as well as equipping babies with a sense of self-mastery and self-confidence as they develop an increasing ability to manipulate and move objects.  Older children enjoy games involving throwing and rolling objects, balancing, or pushing and pulling objects.  For this reason, stacking cups, skittle sets and hoopla games can be great toys to promote co-ordination.  
  • Spatial Awareness:  Play promotes spatial awareness by encouraging children to identify the size, location and proximity of toys and objects as well as their own spatial awareness of what crawling, standing and moving feel like in relation to the objects and space around them.  Toys that promote spatial awareness include robust wooden shape sorters and building blocks.  For example, hiding a wooden block around the room can be a fantastic way to promote play that encourages spatial awareness for toddlers.  
  • Gross and Fine Motor Skills: Gross motor skills allow children to make the big movements associated with crawling, walking and climbing.  Fine motor skills are the skills required for precision movements such as grasping and moving a pencil or crayon.  Play that encourages these important skills include a good variety of both physical movement in large spaces and careful sorting, threading and selecting.   For example, wooden brick trolleys can encourage gross motor skills play for toddlers, as do balls to roll and kick, or objects to jump over.   Simple wooden doctors’ sets help older toddlers and pre-schoolers to use fine motor skills as they practice taking teddy’s temperature.  
  • Problem solving: Play matters if children are to develop the problem-solving skills needed in life. Watching a 9-month-old puzzle over how to fit the ball in the hole is the right sort of age appropriate challenge to encourage resilience and determination.  For toddlers, providing stacking shapes in different colours and sizes can be a great problem-solving play challenge.  Pre-schoolers love the challenges posed by jigsaws and matching games or building and constructing from a range of durable materials.  
  • Language skills:  Play develops language.  Children often narrate what they are doing or imagining as they interact with toys, others and the environment around them.  Older children and adults who play alongside young children often instinctively narrate or ask questions about what they see the child doing too, which is a fantastic way to develop vocabulary and confidence in dialogue and communication.  Asking your child to find you a red or a rectangle block can help with descriptive language.  Narrating how you think teddy might “feel” and asking “what could we do to help Teddy feel better?” when your toddler throws their soft toy on the floor can really help develop emotional language and expressivity. 

So, with this many benefits, it pays for adults to take play seriously too.  The next time your child invites you to join them with the stacking cups, wooden xylophone or pull along train, they are offering to share their business with you.  The business of learning, growth and creativity.  Perhaps its time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck into the serious business of play!

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