I have always been obsessed with watching my child play. I thought it was so amazing to see her learn and develop her skills through playing, and I could sit and watch her play all day long. I have only just realized since becoming a mom 2.5 years ago, that play is SO important to children.
I was always a child who would play for hours independently and some of my most vivid memories are playing in my playroom with my animals and dolls. So now, I love seeing those same traits of imaginary play come out in my daughter. I think that is why I really got into blogging about our activities. I love encouraging play because that was my safe space as a child, and I want my children to feel the same way. I want her to be able to get lost in her own world of play, and I encourage that by setting up open ended activities, and by setting her play area up in a way that she can fully access her toys as she pleases.
So, in this post, I wanted to talk about WHY play is such an important aspect of childhood and how it is truly crucial for a child’s learning and development!
WHY IS PLAY SO IMPORTANT?
Both unstructured play, and play that is more learning based can be critical in child development. You see, children learn in a completely different way than adults do. It has actually been widely researched across the world, and found that play enriches learning and helps with the development of key skills such as expression, experimentation, teamwork, and inquiry!
Children learn through comparing their physical experiences and their interactions with others, but they also learn an enormous amount through play and using their imagination.
So, I want to list a few in depth reasons play is so important:
1 | Play Builds Imagination and Creativity
When a child is playing, they often imitate others and create imaginary games. By doing this, children create complex narratives around these roles and learn to think in new and different ways. By learning to think in different and abstract ways, the child is building a foundation for more advanced learning and problem solving.
2 | Play Encourages Cognitive Growth
It is known through research that play is essential in the development of a child’s brain. Free play has a positive affect on neurological development by influencing how the neural circuits of the brain are wired. Free play also has beneficial impacts on a child’s confidence, intelligence and communication.
3 | Play Provides Emotional and Behavioral Benefits
While play boosts joy and self-esteem in children, it can also greatly reduce anxiety, stress and irritability. Play helps to improve emotional resilience and can help children in their ability to adapt to change. Children will work through new challenges using play, because that is the way that they can understand and process best.
4 | Play Assists in Learning How to Interact in A Group Setting
Group play introduces social roles and cultural norms to children. Through play, children develop the skills necessary to interact cooperatively within group structures. Group play also gives them an opportunity to learn about self-control and gives them an understand of acceptable group behaviors. The skills learned in group play can help form a solid foundation for the child’s social skills.
5 | Play Encourages Independence
While group play is important, so is independent play! Solo play helps in promoting a stronger sense of independence,imagination and creativity. And, not to worry if your child may enjoy or choose to play alone, even in a group setting, they can still learn social cues by observing other group interactions from a distance.
6| Play Promotes Health & Physical Fitness
I think it is pretty obvious that children love to be active. Being active through play helps to promote physical fitness and well being in children. Active play gives kids the opportunity to work on their reflexes, movement control, gross motor skills and also develop their balance. Play also helps children to build muscle, improve bone-density and increase cardio-vascular function. There are so many positives to active play!
It is important that we encourage meaningful play in our children. In meaningful play, children are active participants. Meaningful play is often hands on, spontaneous, and is really driven by the child. There are 5 big characteristics of meaningful play:
- It Gives the child the choice about what they would like to do.
- Is fun and enjoyable for the child (not forced or pushed on the child).
- The play is in a risk-free environment where the child can explore and try new ideas freely and independently as they please.
- The play evolves spontaneously and is not scripted or too structured.
- Is driven naturally by the child.
HOW TO ENCOURAGE LEARNING THROUGH PLAY
There is not really a “right” way to learn through play, but there are some tips & tricks to getting the most success! Here are somethings we do in our house to encourage more learning through play!
- Set up play areas with the child in mind. We make sure Mia’s playroom is set up in a way that she can fully access all of her toys that are in the room at the time. We use horizontal shelving to display items, almost like a store window, so Mia can clearly see what is available to play with, and grab it as she pleases. We make all toys as visible as possible, and I have found since switching over to this method, Mia plays independently much more.
- Rotate toys. Instead of having all toys in the play space, thrown in bins or tubs and not visible, store half the toys away in storage bins, and swap or rotate as often as desired. This keeps things fresh! It can also be overwhelming for a child when there is too much clutter or when they have to dig through bins and bins of toys. Having toys clearly displayed, and then swapped and changed out every 1-2 weeks, will ensure all the toys get the love they deserve!
- Focus on open ended toys. We started being very intentional with the toys we were buying. I try to buy toys that can be used in a variety of ways, or that will grow with the child. Some great examples of open ended toys are animal figures, nesting cups, dolls, play food or pots and pans, wooden blocks, cars and trucks, and magnetic tiles.
- Let your child play as they please. I set up activities all the time for Mia, and usually have some idea of how I would expect her to play with them. A majority of the time she approaches the activity in a completely different way then I had in mind. Do I correct her? Nope. I let her explore and play as she pleases until she starts to lose interest, and then at that point I may redirect her and show her the original way I intended for the activity to be used. A great example is if I set up a color matching activity using pom poms and nesting cups. My intention with the activity is for her to place the pom pom in the matching colored cup. However, if she walks up to the activity and starts lining up the pom poms or stacking her nesting cups, I am not going to say “no, do it this way.” I let her explore as she pleases, and redirect when she starts to get bored.
- Leave your child to play when they are in the zone (when possible). It always seems that my child is the most into her play right at the same time that dinner is ready. Unless we are in a rush for some reason, I just leave her to play until she is finished. Dinner can be reheated. If we are rushing to get out the door in the morning to get to work on time, I often let her bring whatever shes playing with into the car with her so she can continue to play. This is something I see A LOT, and have caught myself doing it as well. If we are at a playground or children’s event, I often see parents pulling their child away from something they are interested in to do something different. For example, the child is enjoying the swing, and after a few minutes, the parent says “come play on the slide”. Letting your child explore freely as they choose will have more benefit to their learning! Obviously if you need to redirect your child away from a dangerous activity, then do so, but otherwise just let them be!
So there you have it! The power and importance of play! To get started with learning through play, you can shop all of our favorite items HERE.
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