What exactly are the benefits of play in early childhood and is it so necessary for our children to be playing every day?
Play is the most natural state for a child, and the state in which they learn anything and everything in the first few years of life.
While there seems to be a trend to move away from play-based learning to more academic learning in early childhood, little children are losing out on invaluable time when they are supposed to be learning pre-writing, pre-reading and early-maths skills through play.
So, what exactly are all these amazing skills that are developed through play? Let’s take a look at how play develops a child holistically.
1. Physical Benefits of Play
There are so many physical benefits of play.
A child’s physical development depends on building their gross motor and fine motor skills – which happens during play.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills include:
- Standing, running, climbing, pedalling, jumping, throwing, rolling, catching, balancing, kicking, hopping, skipping, hanging, stepping, riding, etc.
- Posture and the ability to sit at a desk and concentrate, balance and coordination, and many other things.
Children who do not develop their gross motor skills are less likely to participate in sports during their childhood and adolescence.
Fine Motor Skills
Gross motor skills must develop before fine motor skills.
Fine motor skills include:
- Building a tower, opening containers, tracing, holding a crayon, threading, cutting, completing a puzzle, dressing, brushing teeth, colouring, copying shapes, building with lego, drawing pictures, etc.
- When these skills are developed, pencil grip, finger strength and endurance are developed, which enables children to form letters and write on lines.
In order to learn to read and write, children need to develop their motor skills.
2. Cognitive Benefits of Play
Here are just a few ways children build cognitive development through play:
- Play improves memory and stimulates brain growth. Babies who are not stimulated do not follow the same developmental patterns as those who are. Play is essential for continuing this growth.
- Providing breaks helps with attention span. Preschoolers can focus for longer periods on quiet activities when they are given opportunities for free play. Children working on academic tasks are able to focus better when they are given breaks to play and move freely.
- During play, children are constantly solving problems in creative ways and developing their critical thinking skills.
- Early maths skills are developed during play in many ways. A common example is playing with and stacking blocks, which builds a number concept from a very young age.
- Play is full of exploration and experimentation – good skills for science and technology classes in the later grades.
- Expressive and receptive language is developed. Both receptive language (what a child hears) and expressive language (what a child says) are stimulated continuously while playing, especially during pretend play.
- Their auditory skills and ability to decipher sounds are developed, which lays the foundation for reading later on.
3. Social Benefits of Play
Children need strong social skills to function on a daily basis. These are built mostly through a child’s relationship with their parents and family, and through playing with peers.
Here are some ways children develop social skills through play;
- During play, children learn to act appropriately in social situations and read body language.
- Rules usually exist during play, whether they are structured rules during a board game or rules invented as you go along in a pretend game of cowboys. It is important for children to learn to navigate how to follow expectations and find a balance between following others’ rules and asserting their own expectations confidently.
- During play, children learn to share, consider others, take turns, be fair and manage the game so that everyone involved has a positive experience.
- When conflicts arise, they are a good opportunity to learn to resolve them effectively, as well as independently.
4. Emotional Benefits of Play
Here are a few of the benefits of play for emotional development:
- Play offers a healthy outlet for children to release tension.
- Physical movement releases endorphins, contributing to children’s overall feeling of well-being.
- Play allows time to learn without worrying about failure, and encourages learning competence.
- Play teaches self-control, maturity, independence, healthy expression and regulation of emotions.
- Play builds personality, self-confidence and positive self-image.
- During pretend play, symbolic play and dress-up play, children are able to deal with life situations by acting them out.
These are just a few examples of what children learn through play. The list of benefits is endless and makes you wonder why it is often so undervalued.
This is an extremely thorough article on the topic of play and well worth the read. It is research-based and also delves into the modern-day problem of reduced playtime and the consequences for children. It is also a good aid for teaching parents about the importance of play in child development.
Or, if you’d prefer, watch this video about free play explaining what real free play is and how to not overschedule your child’s free time.
Children need time, every single day, to be completely free to play. They need to invent their own games, solve their own problems and make their own discoveries.
So, if you’d like your children to become competent readers, spellers, mathematicians, and artists……then they probably need to climb more trees!
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