Children play for many reasons, but the simple truth is that they have to play. Play is a child’s way of being part of the world she lives in. Children play in all human cultures. Even young animals play. Have you ever seen a video of lion cubs chasing each other and wrestling? They’re playing: learning how their bodies work, learning skills that will help them hunt some day. Human children are not so different.
Play actually helps children grow up. It takes a lot more than having a series of birthdays and getting bigger to make an adult out of a baby. In order to mature into adults, children also need life experience and play is their way of getting that experience.
We do a lot of things for or to young children. We feed them, keep them clean, comfort them, put them to bed and show them how to brush their teeth or pick up their toys. All of that is important because it helps children stay safe and healthy. But children also need and want to do and discover things on their own. Play is their way of doing what they want to do.
Play helps children:
• Explore and understand their environment. Learning about the world around them is an important job of childhood.
• Develop their brains. During play children use their senses, make decisions, solve problems and see the results of their actions. All of this helps a child develop the ability to think.
• Learn what they can do with their bodies. Child development is not just about intelligence. Play helps children develop hand-eye coordination, balance, strength and agility.
• Learn and practise new skills. Children will need many skills in life: paying attention, planning, using tools. They develop those skills through play.
• Develop social skills. Playing with friends, siblings and parents is the most important way for children to learn how to get along with people.
• Learn about life. The lessons of play are the lessons of life for a child.
• Have a good time! Some people say that play is a child’s work. True – but remember play helps make children’s lives enjoyable and happy.
Structured and Unstructured Play
Structured play has specific goals or a relatively predictable outcome. Usually the structure is provided by adults or by a set of rules – a game of cards, doing a puzzle, playing a team sport. Structured play helps children learn skills, how to work with others and how to follow instructions.
With unstructured play the outcome is less predictable. Children have to make decisions about what will happen as the play develops.
Kids love unstructured play because the possibilities are endless. But it is also good for them. In unstructured play, children learn to exercise their imagination, creativity and problem-solving ability. Young children need plenty of time for unstructured play.
What can you do to play with your child today?