There’s no doubt that children love their playtime! From building blocks to doll prams, playing can be an important aspect of a child’s life.
Early childhood research shows that children can develop physically, think creatively and gain social skills to help them navigate the world around them.
We explore what makes children’s play so important in their development, and what skills different types of play can encourage.
Different types of play experiences
This type of play experience is unplanned and allows children to play freely with no strict structure. Free play is important for your younger children as they can use their imagination and move at their own pace. They decide how they choose to express themselves and spend their time.
Examples of unstructured play might be:
- Imagination play games, such as dressing up, playing make-believe, or making up a fantasy world.
- Exploring new spaces such as the park, a big box, playgrounds, and cupboards.
- Creative play doing artistic or musical activities either by themselves or with others.
Parents can also be a part of their child’s unstructured play. You can point your child in the right direction and support their interests. Whether you’re playing with toys on the floor, the pile of clothes for dressing up, or on the table with paper and crayons, you and your child can explore fun and engaging activities together.
If you’re looking for something more organised, structured play is a great alternative. For this type of play, you can plan out activities for you and your child to do. You can find the right setting and time for play or schedule in specific games that your child would really love to play. In this instance, you would be leading the playtime.
Examples of structured play might be:
- Storytelling for preschoolers and toddlers at home or in the library.
- Physical activities, such as soccer.
- Card games or family board games.
- Drama, music, or dance classes and other active play.
Some children may be loud and bold, whereas others might be more reserved and quiet. Finding the right activity can really benefit your child’s confidence!
Having lots of toys isn’t necessary for your children to play so long as they have the freedom, space, and time to explore their interests and ideas. No matter what children’s play looks like, it’s a learning experience for everyone.
Importance of play in children
There is no right or wrong way to play. Your child may find joy in playing a video game, building Lego, or roleplaying characters. Every child is different and unique in their own way, so why shouldn’t their playtime reflect this?
Here a few more reasons why play is important for children:
1. Play builds imagination and creativity
Imaginative play involves creating a make-believe world. Allow your child to play-pretend in their own fantasy with the help of games, costumes and interactive dolls. Children often act out and mimic their surroundings in order to make sense of them. For example, some children may wish to pretend to be their parents by playing with dolls carriage prams. Not only is this super fun and creative but imagination play helps your child’s emotional development and broadens their mind.
Symbolic play is the capability to imagine one object as another. This could be turning cardboard boxes into a spaceship, using a brush as a microphone or using pillows and mattresses to make a fort. Using items which surround them, symbolic play encourages children to think creatively and find other uses and purposes for objects. Playing like this is great for a child’s development as they’ll have the necessary skills for better learning and problem-solving.
2. Play helps children with emotional and behavioural skills
When we feel overwhelmed, we choose to do activities that provide us with some comfort. For adults, we might go to the gym, sit in the garden or be with friends for stimulus. While this may seem like a distraction, it’s actually our way of bringing play back into our lives.
Children are the very same, although they need more playtime than us. Daily play teaches your child to deal with stress, anxiety, and irritability. It also boosts their self-esteem and joy. You can also understand your child’s emotions better when you observe their play.
Listening and asking your child questions shows them that you care. They know that their play adventures and feelings are important and through play, children develop skills to process and understand the world.
3. Play time aids cognitive development
Unstructured playtime can help your child’s brain to develop constructively. It increases and strengthens the brain’s neural connections, improving their thinking abilities. Since adults do not lead them, they are left to think for themselves during their playtime.
This builds and strengthens the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area of the brain influences how children learn, solve problems and absorb knowledge from the environment.
4. They improve their literacy
Children start building literacy and language skills through social interactions and play. During their early years, toddlers and babies learn new words through their parents describing what they see, hear and do. Singing songs and poems to a beat also helps children develop listening skills.
When your child plays, they learn how to communicate, even if they can’t talk that well! They understand their identity and role in the community by sharing stories and make-believe games. Stories also teach the technicality of language.
Playing with small toys can help your child build the small muscles in the hands, which helps with writing, whereas concentration games increase the ability to maintain attention and observation. These skills are integral when learning literacy skills.
Even in school, your child should still make play important. Early childhood education teachers often like to plan play ideas to aid their students’ intellectual development. In this way, the children pay more attention to their work.
5. Play improves physical health
Children love being active. They have a desire for physical play or any type of play that involves them moving around. This is how they learn to use their bodies and increase connections in the brain. It also results in fit and healthy children.
Physical play can help children in the following ways:
- Build strong muscles
- Movement control
- Improve gross motor skills
- Have better balance
- Sharpen reflexes
- Enhances bone density
- Increases heart and blood pressure function
These are only some of the benefits your child gets out of playing. Physical activities are also great for mental health as it allows you to channel your energy into something healthy and beneficial to your development.
6. Promotes independence
While guidance from parents is important at this stage, it’s good for your child to learn some form of independence.
When children play, they have the chance to set their own rules. They can be the leader in their playtime, and the adults can listen to them. Independent play helps children learn how to tackle tasks on their own and figure out how they fit in. Try not to be too strict on what your child would like to do or discourage their curious nature. In order for your child to grow, you’ll need to support their need for independence.
Check out our blog on how to extend children’s play to explore ways to keep your child or grandchild entertained.
Play ideas you can try at home
If you’re unsure where to begin, you should start off by choosing ideas that appeal to your child’s interests. Gather the right supplies, and then leave your child to it. Your child will need lots of time and permission to find their flow, so be prepared for them to make a mess.
Look for ways to control the chaos without limiting their creativity, such as doing messy activities outside.
Here are some easy play ideas to keep your kids busy!
- Water painting: Give your child a paintbrush and a bucket of water. Let them have fun with painting!
- Outdoor drawings: Take huge sheets of paper outside in the garden on a sunny day. Grab crayons, felt-tip pens, and paint. Let your children express their creativity by drawing and painting. They can also use their fingers and other objects with some texture, such as sponges.
- Scavenger hunt: Send your children to explore your garden or the beach to see what cool things they can find. This allows them to learn and understand nature which could prove to be a great gift for tackling climate change later in life. They could come back with driftwood, shells, pebbles, or an odd-shaped stone.
- Drawing with chalk: You can buy thick chalk sticks from the store for your kids. They will have fun drawing on the bricks, fences, driveway, and walls. They would also like watching it being washed away by the rain.
- Getting down and dirty: Fill a container with soil or go to the garden. Collect some yoghurt pots, toy animals, spoons, sticks, small stones, and cars. Let your kids use their hands to dig into the soil. Add water to create mud so that they will have double the amount of fun. You may even introduce them to gardening by having them plant seeds and flowers in the soil.
- Picnic with cuddly friends: Children love to eat outdoors. So, take a blanket or mat in the garden and lay out some plates and cups for food. Tell your kids to bring their teddy bears to the picnic.
Read more in our guide on the role of adults in children’s play for other ideas.
How does play empower children?
The benefits of play help your child realise and release their true potential of imagination and creativity which will help them grow into healthy individuals. Don’t underestimate the power of play, and concentrate on structured and unstructured activities for your child.
How can I integrate play with a child with special needs?
Children with special educational needs can often be very shy. You can show them it’s okay and be their play partner. Play a game with your child or play pretend games, such as going to the shop together. As the child becomes comfortable, slowly introduce other children to join playtime. Don’t rush the process, and allow your child to adapt.
Encourage healthy playtime with Play Like Mum!
At Play Like Mum, we have a range of dolls prams and pushchairs to help with your child’s playtime.