The importance of play in the education of young childen is universally appreciated. Play is a natural way for children to learn and is one of the most effective kinds of learning because children have all the tools they need at their disposal (their bodies, relationships with family and friends and their environment). Play is serious business and is central to his or her healthy development.
The Value of Play
For children, play is fun. The pleasure they receive from play is a strong motivation to repeat the activities. With repetition comes control over and the development of a skill. This brings a sense of accomplishment and confidence.
Intellectual benefits - Playing helps childen to concentrate, to reason and organize their thinking. They learn to solve problems.
Social benefits - Children learn to take turns, share, wait, negotiate, compromise and cooperate. Through play they are learning about themselves and the world they live in, and become more confident in each situation.
Emotional benefits - Play allows the opportunity to engage their imaginations and encourages creativity. Play helps children to develop a positive self-image, and provides a way to express emotions. At times, children choose to engage in fantasy play. This gives them the opportunity to have control over situations in which they would normally be powerless. It helps them to explore problems or difficulties they experience and to act out solutions. This is a great way to help them conquor fears and master situations they find difficult or scary. (eg a child talking soothingly to her doll while giving it an injection could be a way of processing her own fear of injections.)
Physical benefits - Play helps to get rid of excess energy. It enables children to relieve tension and express themselves through movement. Play also encourages development, control and coordination of muscles needed for everyday activities eg running games, hopscotch, pushing a friend in a swing all help to develop and strengthen large muscles (gross motor development). Threading, drawing, tying things together develops fine motor and manipulative skills. Catching a bean bag or ball develops hand-eye coordination. Play helps to exercise muscles and develop a strong, toned, flexible and healthy body.
Language benefits - Through play, children learn to share ideas and communicate effectively. Singing, and playing rhyming and word games encourages them to master the rules of the sounds that make up their language.
How Children Play
Very young children play on their own. They don't relate to other children. It takes time and a certain amount of maturity to learn to share toys and to understand that there may be rules which must be followed while playing.
At certain times, children like to watch others playing. They may ask questions or give suggestions but don't get involved in the play.
Children play alongside each, possibly even with similar toys and doing similar things, but don't engage with each other.
Children play together with similar toys but in an unorganised way.
They play with a purpose. They interact with one another in a game or some organised way. In playing together, children learn such social skills as co-operation, taking turns, waiting, following rules, and winning and loosing.
- Allow plenty of time for both free and organised play. Avoid offering play as a reward.
- Allow plenty of room for safe exploration and play with limited restrictions. Arrange definite play spaces inside and outside.
- Provide lots of stimulating, interesting and challenging activities and games. Ensure they have a range of simple and more complex games: toys, art and drawing supplies, puzzles, books, dress up and fantasy play items, musical instruments and construction toys. Remember that these toys and games don't have to be expensive or even new!
- Rotate the toys they play with. Divide their toys into 2 or more boxes and exchange them weekly. It's also a good idea to have a box for special toys which your child does not have to share with friends.
- Talk to children about what they are doing and how they feel.Use this as an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary too.
- Play with your child. Remember to get down to his level eg sit on the floor to play cars with him. Be encouraging in what you say to him and this will teach him to take pride in his play and hevwant to play more. (Never criticise or make fun of his play)
Need some ideas for holiday games?
Fun and Games with a Smile is a great resource book packed with lots of ideas for fun indoor and outdoor games.
It also contains a 12 page introduction about children's motor development (mainly gross motor ie large muscles), and includes the importance of movement, developing balance, and how we can help to develop gross motor skills.
The rest of the 62-page book is packed with activity ideas using simple toys like bean bags, buckets, skipping ropes and shapes. You'll be surprised at how versatile a skipping rope is and how many games can be played with a bean bag!
Some of the activities are played on large shapes which can be made from cardboard, or use RedMelon's non-slip and versatile Jumbo Shapes.
Useful web-based game for young children