Playing is more than just a fun activity for children during childhood years. It is extremely essential that every parent encourages their little one to play because this contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of the child. In fact, play time is an excellent opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children, which both strengthens the parent-child relationship, promotes emotional intelligence and boosts confidence levels on the long run. In this post, Kathleen Alfano, Ph.D. holder and Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price (Mattel), explains how playtime benefits children.
With a busy lifestyle, parents need to acknowledge the importance of such enriching activities and reassure their children by actively playing with them. Since day one, New born babies begin to interact with everything around them. They try to look for objects to activate their five senses. Through playing, infants get to experience being in the shoes of a grown up and mastering the role, which enables them to easily conquer their fears in the future. With role play, children expand their creativity horizons by living a momentary life of a virtual character through their toys. Similarly, when they play with toys that require motor skills, children not only develop cognitive abilities to perceive a cause and effect relationship between the actions they do and the results which take place, but they also develop sharp, hand-eye coordination.
As toddlers grow up, they experiment with their abilities by interacting with objects and people from the external environment. Playing independently allows the child to become competent at what they do and develop resilience on the long run. The feedback they get from their parents influences their intellectual and emotional growth to a large extent. For example, complementing children’s intelligence is not a recommended approach. Instead, acknowledging and congratulating them for their hard work is a strategy that does not talk directly to the children’s identity but instead to the effort they have made. When it comes to talking toys, it is an excellent opportunity for the toddler to learn language skills by listening to and imitating the sounds they hear, further expanding their vocabulary.
While solitary play is important, it is in group play that children learn how to get along with others and how to handle conflicts. Through group play they experience group processes of thought and the give-and-take of compromising. And in that sense, play is real-life learning. It helps them get ready for the everyday experience of interacting with others. As important as finding time to play, children need to have enough time to play. It takes time to set up the play scenario, take roles, prepare the props, decide with others how to proceed, and so forth. Through play, children develop who they are. Their cognitive, language and physical skills develop through their play experiences as well as their imagination, concentration, self-confidence and sociability skills.
Keeping in mind the points mentioned, the style in which children play contributes to a large extent as well to the development of their personalities. There are two types of play and both have different set of benefits which enhance the child’s psychological state – directed and self-directed. Directed play is one in which the child plays in a structure and for a purpose. This type of play is one that is implemented in pre-school environments to encourage the child to learn new knowledge. On the other hand, self-directed play allows children to channel their playing skills and decide with which toys and what type of games they want to play. This promotes decision-making abilities, creativity, and leadership while allowing them to freely explore their interests.
Whilst the benefits of independent play is worth noting, research shows that playtime with parents is very essential for the child to feel secure. In fact, parents themselves recognize that this helps build their daughters’ self-confidence and that time spent in her imaginary world is an investment in the real world. Further, the most effective way a child learns cognitive and motor skills is through observational learning. At a very young age, the first person a child looks up to for emotional and behavioral approval and guidance is their parents. Hence, play time can be much more interactive when a parent is involved indirectly in the setting.
The parent-child play setup provides the perfect environment to enrich the child’s competence, leadership skills and cognitive abilities. In addition, it equips the child with psychological skills to regulate their emotions and through enriched, nurturing play the child will grow up to know how to cope with stress.
In a nut shell, playing has much more benefits to the psychological, social and emotional development of children. Not only that, but when parents engage with their children during play time, they get an opportunity to strengthen their nurturing relationship. The different play styles indirectly contribute to shaping the child’s personality. Hence, every parent should ensure that there is enough time allocated for their child to play; by that, they should be certain that their child has enough time develop on multiple levels.
Contributed by Kathleen Alfano, Ph.D. holder and Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price (Mattel)