Sneak peek: The importance of free play in child development can’t be overstated. Research-backed benefits of play for children’s development.
If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that PLAY is something I’m pretty passionate about. Whether it be play-based learning, dress-up play or outdoor play, I love to write about the importance of free play in child development.
We may have an image of play as just a fun part of childhood (which it is, of course!), but it is SO much more than that for children’s development. Through learning more about the role of play in child development and parenting, we see just how valuable it is.
This week I’m featuring a fellow writer and she will walk us through all the aspects of play in child development. Jennifer Landis is a writer and blogger at Mindfulness Mama who writes about all things motherhood in a fun and helpful way.
The Importance of Play for Children
Playing is more than just a pastime for children — it’s a crucial element in their development. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has protected children’s right to play for this very reason.
Unfortunately, though, today’s children have fewer chances to lose themselves in play. For many schools, reduced playtime is just a way to meet the sweeping educational standards enforced by the government with legislation like No Child Left Behind, which put pressure on teachers to improve children’s math and reading skills. That act has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, but there’s still plenty of academic pressure on today’s kids.
For that reason, many spend less time playing and more time in tutoring or studying. Plus, with working parents, some children spend little time at home during the week, thus leaving them with no time to let their imaginations run wild.
Still, no matter how busy our schedules get, the importance of play for children cannot be overstated.
How does play affect a child’s development?
1. Play Inspires Creativity
If you’ve ever watched children play, you know this to be true — they can imagine they’re riding on a rocket ship, they’ll wear your winter coat like it’s a fireman’s uniform, or they’ll build a completely different shape with a Lego set meant to be something else. Play inspires your children to flex the right side of their brain, boosting their creativity and imagination in ways that academic study cannot.
The importance of creative play in child development is easily apparent. Creativity has a place in all aspects of life. It helps us solve problems better and, if we hone our imaginations from an early age, we find it easier to be open-minded about others’ differing ideas and opinions later on.
2. Play Boosts Literacy
Whether they’re playing alone or imagining alongside someone else, kids learn to communicate better through play. When they’re playing pretend or dress up, for example, kids vocalize the story they’re creating, verbally collaborating with one another. They learn to make new sounds and pick up vocabulary words from their playmates. As they learn to read out loud, this practice helps them boost their literacy all around.
Plus, speaking up in the midst of play allows kids to vocalize their own emotions. Obviously, this is an essential skill for a person of any age, but play helps children develop it early on.
3. Play Teaches Social Skills
To that end, sharing toys or play space with another child teaches them how to do it well. Play inspires collaboration among kids. It helps them learn to share and take turns. It also shows your child when and how to stand up for themselves — they’ll realize that some of their thoughts and ideas are worth sticking up for. If kids are left to play on their own with one another, they learn all this on their own, no grown-ups required. The importance of free play in child development is often overlooked. However, given some time on their own, kids work out these social negotiations themselves. Figuring out how to manage one’s own emotions and those of others is a key part of social-emotional development.
Related reading: Social-Emotional Development: A Parent’s Guide
4. Play Improves Physical Fitness
According to national data, 18.5 percent of American children are obese. Along with inactive days spent at school, kids have plenty of passive ways to entertain themselves, such as playing video games or watching TV. Promoting unstructured free play can help children improve their physical fitness levels and develop stronger, healthier bodies. In doing so, parents can help stave off the weight-related epidemic that has affected many Americans.
Watch more about the benefits of play in child development:
5. Play Helps Kids Find Their Passions
In older children especially, playing allows them to explore different hobbies and activities. Playing might also spark an interest in a particular type of animal or a literary character, an interest that leads them to explore, learn and play even more. Even if they don’t find the path that will become their future career, kids can discover further hobbies just through playing, whether it’s with you, their friends or their siblings.
6. Play Teaches Parents to Let Go of the Reins
Finally, grown-ups have a lot to learn from their children while they’re playing. Most importantly, parents should learn that not every moment of a child’s life has to be structured — they should be free to relax, be creative and have fun. So, play along with your kids, but don’t guide them to the point where you’re controlling the play. Instead, let them take the reins and imagine what’s next.
Related reading: Fun and Effective Executive Functioning Activities for Preschoolers
It will be good for both of you, since your child will reap the previously mentioned benefits and further their development in a multitude of areas. Meanwhile, you will learn to roll with the punches, a much better way of raising kids than helicopter parenting. For that, both of you will be happier.
Give your children the chance to explore their imaginations with unstructured play time. Then, watch as they flourish personally, physically and academically. That’s what it’s all about, after all — watching your child grow up happily and healthily. They can chart the right course just by playing.
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