Why should we let children ‘just’ play?
Because it’s important for many many reasons!
Children’s lack of play can be largely attributed to our current lifestyles. Due to our urban lifestyle choices, we find less outdoor space for running and in the instances that we do send them outside, it’s quite a process! We need to make sure that they have their mosquito patches on and mosquito repellent on – with dengue and a whole load of other transmittable diseases around, even play becomes an issue.
We have also chosen to divert all our energy into making sure that our children excel and that we chose afterschool classes with that purpose. Our children are forever going to that speech and drama class, ballet class, tennis class, chess class or swimming class. I know of a lot of children who do more than one afterschool class per day and of course, when they get home, they have to tend to their school studies and are left with not much time to play. Indeed, it is fast becoming the norm to go for more than two afterschool classes a day than not to.
Additionally, most of us forever busy, either in front of a computer or meeting a deadline. Hence sadly those visits to the park or making that special time to play with your children always seems to be in bottom of the list to do. If you have an only child, you’ll be more conscious of this as play time is much more limited.
According to a clinical report by the American Academy of Paediatrics, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.” From newborns, to babies, to toddlers and young children, play provides an important opportunity to learn skills such as spatial awareness, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, cognitive abilities, vocabulary, concepts and help them learn social aspects. Play is a very important part of a childhood and should be encouraged and given importance.
Let’s glance through the importance of play in promoting healthy child development::
- Awareness of surroundings: In newborns and babies, playtime engages them and helps them be more aware of their outside world. They explore through play and their senses of sight, touch and sound.
- Playtime helps children to learn about different feelings – playtime is a wonderful time for children to witness different feelings within themselves and others. They’ll learn about sharing, being assertive, managing tantrums and leadership. Playtime is a wonderful time for kids’ social development and communication through their interactions with their peers.
- Playtime allows them to explore their creativity and imagination – playtime ensures that creativity and imagination are endless. A child who is rich in imagination and play will be able to understand different concepts, tell stories and are more prone to being artistic. They will be able to ‘see’ more when they are given the tools to develop their imagination and creativity.
- Playtime can help them conqueror their fears – During play, children may come across situations where they are not able to do something. Through play, children learn that they shouldn’t quit. Instead they assess the situation and try out different options till they obtain what they want. Through this, they learn that if they try hard enough they can get what they want and that they can conquer their fears. A wonderful example is when your child needs to go across a set of monkey bars and is initially scared but learn to conquer this fear.
- Playtime helps then learn about conflict management – A boardroom and a sandpit may not be that different! It’s at a sandpit that children learn the foundations of conflict management. They learn to share, negotiate with one another, be assertive, resolve conflicts and self-advocacy skills.
- Promotes better behaviour – kids need play to relax and spend that pent up energy. Lack of play can have kids feeling frustrated and at unease and more likely to lash out, have grumpy moods, more aggressive and generally exhibit bad behaviour.
- Playtime also gives more exercise – with modern eating habits and current lifestyles, children should be encouraged for more outdoor unstructured play that will help them be more physically active.
- Our children need to be children – childhood should be about fun and laughter; not about grades and medals. Children need to enjoy that time that they would never be able to have later. You would know that as time goes by, we have deadlines to be met and finances to manage. Why not let children simply have fun!
Unstructured free play has hosts of benefits. The above benefits of play cannot be obtained during structured physical activities such as P.E and other exercise based afterschool classes. During these said classes, a teacher manages and guides children and their interactions. To best reap from the benefits of play, remember they need to be unstructured so that kids can interact with each other and learn from each other. Listed below are the different kind of play and their benefits for you to put into practice:
- Constructive Play – this kind of play involves children creating something. Lego, building blocks, Mecano, mud crafts, handwork and even simply playing in a sand pit are all examples of constructive play. Children who play with constructive play are more likely to be able to creatively figure things out and understand which objects and concepts go with one another and which don’t.
- Play with rules – games such as tennis, football, monopoly, eyes spy, marco polo all function within rules. By playing games that have rules, children understand the concept of cause and consequence and in the much larger outlook understand that we all function under rules and that they need to be followed.
- Fantasy play – helps children stretch their imagination and storytelling abilities. Role play and the use of technology to play as a character teaches them new vocabulary, concepts and even history.
- Physical Play – outdoor and indoor play that helps a child to physically move around will help the child with spatial awareness, gross and fine motor skills. It also helps them with muscle development and strengthening.
- Social Play – this is basic play where children learn important skills such as sharing, thinking of one another, conflict management, leadership and being assertive. When children interact through play, they understand how the world works and as they grow older becomes a foundation of their behaviour towards society.
‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.’ Play however, can benefit a child greatly. So while you may not understand why your child is rowing inside a cardboard box or playing for hours gently with car pretending to be a racing driver winning a race or his expensive obsession with Lego – they are all building his character and helping him develop. Let them play, after all, they are only young once.