Albert Einstein’s famous words that play is the highest form of research.
Well he was not wrong. Children NEED to play. When you think of healthy development, a balanced diet, education and a loving home, you may not realise that playtime is important. Parents often believe that playing is only for fun and involves no actual learning. But playtime is how children experience their world and it is just as important as children's basic needs.
Play is one of the main ways in which kids learn and develop. Playtime can positively impact young children and it’s a child’s MOST important job.
What is play?
Play can take many forms but essentially it’s an activity that engages and challenges little ones minds. Play can include a variety of activities. From painting, hide and seek to playing at the park to a game of football. It can be any type of play, they will still be learning and reaping all the benefits.
Benefits of play!
When engaging in playtime it sets up children physically, emotionally, and socially for the experiences and challenges of life. The positive effects of play on young children contributes to their all round development.
Playtime is needed for the development and growth for a functional and healthy brain. It helps to reduce stress and anxiety and help to improve cognitive and language abilities. Play helps build the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which influences the way a child gains knowledge, solves problems and learn about their world. (1)
When kids play, such as active play, outdoor play, and sports, they develop fine and gross motor skills that aid them in all areas of life. They will also develop their hand eye coordination, and reflexes. Physical play helps to build strong muscles and increase cardio vascular function it also supports the development of coordination, balance, and overall physical fitness. Physical type play is great exercise for children and promotes a healthy lifestyle.
Play provides opportunities for children to interact and engage with others, developing their social skills. It enables them to learn about cooperation, sharing, negotiation, empathy, and communication. Play situations often involve taking turns, resolving conflicts, and understanding social roles, which are essential for building relationships and functioning in society.
When playing with your child it becomes a foundation of a healthy relationship. Children feel appreciated and valued. They know they are important and it gives you the chance to nurture and guide your child. When children engage in play it helps children develop positive self-esteem. It can create confidence and resilience to face challenges that they may come across.
They also learn to make friends and and form relationships with their peers. Its important to build a support network and having these friendships help children to feel a sense of belonging. Not having these friendships can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation and can contribute to depression.
Children are born to learn language. From birth children learn language and literacy skills and play is a natural way for interactions. Play provides opportunities for language development as children engage in conversations, storytelling, and role-playing. They learn new words, sentence structures, and communication strategies. During social play, friendships with their peers and the conversations between adults and children in playtime enhances their listening skills, comprehension, and ability to express themselves effectively. (2)
Playtime can help children learn how to control their emotions. Children can express their views through play. Successful play experiences contribute to a child's self-confidence and self-esteem. As they engage in play, set goals, and accomplish tasks, they gain a sense of competence and mastery. Play also provides a safe space for them to take risks, make decisions, and learn from mistakes, enhancing their self-belief and resilience. They can learn how to deal with social situations and how to feel when something doesn’t go their way. They learn how to cope with feelings of fear, and frustration and develop the skills of sharing, taking turns and learning to resolve conflicts. During playtimes children will learn empathy and understanding. Studies show that games can help children learn to self regulate their emotions. (3)
Play encourages children to use their imagination and be creative. When engaged in open-ended play, they can invent scenarios and problem-solve. This fosters their ability to generate ideas, explore possibilities, and approach challenges with flexibility. Children learn to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions to problems. Activities can help children to stretch their imaginations and this contributes to a successful life into adulthood (4)
Playing is a wonderful way for children to reduce stress. When children are not given the opportunity to playtimes they can become grumpy and angry. Playing contributes to a child’s overall happiness and that is all we want for our children, to be happy. (5)
Play is so crucial for child development that even the United Nations lists play as a basic right for every child. (6)
Great development requires play. Unfortunately, our lifestyles have changed over the years meaning we have a faster paced lifestyle and the use of technology has created a decline in playtime for children. Many children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressurised style in the current world. Pushing to achieve higher academics in schools has also seen a decrease in playtimes for children. Play deprivation is becoming more common within our society. This is creating an all work no play mentality and makes a more depressed and unhealthy child.
It's important to note that play should be age-appropriate, varied, and balanced with other aspects of a child's life. By recognising the significance of play and providing ample opportunities for it, parents, caregivers, and educators can support children's holistic development and well-being. So make sure you give your child plenty of opportunities to play regardless of being indoors or out, structured or unstructured, individually or in a group, with rules or without rules. Children don’t need fancy toys or the latest gadget to play. All they need to be given is the freedom time and space. All playing that children participate in is a learning experience. And children will be having fun doing it!
Punkoney, S. M. (2020) Play Impacts Early Brain Development. Stay at Home Educator.
Lewis V, Boucher J, Lupton L, Watson S. Relationships between symbolic play, functional play, verbal and non-verbal ability in young children
Scott Barry Kaufman. (2012) The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development, Pyschology Today.
Bergland, C. (2013) Childhood Creativity Leads to Innovation in Adulthood. Psychology Today.
Hughes, F. P. (1999) Children, play, and development, 3rd ed., Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989.