Growing up isn’t all fun and games, but it certainly helps...
We often think of play as an extracurricular activity for children. Perhaps it’s even thought of as a reward for good behavior or a privilege that can be taken away. Play however, is much more than it seems on the surface and can serve as a crucial tool for healthy childhood development.
There are many areas of development that are affected by play. Play serves so many productive functions. These include:
Stress and anxiety relief
Self-esteem and confidence boosts
Peer socialization and relationships
Practice independence with alone play
Promote healthy imagination
Problem solving skills
Peer to parent/guardian bonding
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Cognitive development can be improved by play too. It may not seem like it, but there are fundamental and foundational elements of cognitive development that are improved through play.
Representation is fairly common in play. Symbols represent many things and children learn through play how to associate certain sounds, amounts and representations accurately. Comprehension is also developed through imaginative games to produce a logical event or story.
As we all know, exercise is extremely beneficial to all developing children. In a time where kids spend more and more time looking at phones, tablets and other types of screens — play provides an outlet for pent up energy.
Physical play does wonders for anxiety and stress as well. We all release chemicals when we exercise and physical play can make children feel better!
For children, developing gross motor skills is also important. Motor skills are improved through running, jumping and many other physical education type activities. But motor skills aren’t just for athletics. Fine motor skills are also developed through play and help a child complete tasks such as holding and operating a pencil, or even a tablet and tying shoes. These can be developed through tasks such as playing with clay or playing with building blocks.
There is no doubt that play serves as a function for developing independent skills such as those mentioned above. Play can also serve as a stepping stone for social skills. Cooperation, sharing and even conflict resolution are all developed through play activities. Learning how to understand the feelings of classmates, friends and adults is also developed through play.
This means learning how to control and manage their own emotions while also understanding how their actions affect those around them.
Playing with caregivers, parents, guardians and teachers is also a bonding experience.
Playful socialization also exposes children to peers of different backgrounds. This helps children reduce stigmas of others and understand the diversity of their peers.
Play serves as holistic function for children, improving their development in many ways simultaneously. The ways in which a child learns, how old a child is, and where a child is on the developmental spectrum all play a part in which type of play will be most helpful as well.
While fine and gross motor skills do get developed during the toddler years with play, we’re going to skip ahead to the early-childhood years. Let’s take a look at some of the common play practices and activities for children between 4-12.
This period is typically marked between the ages of 4-6 years old and are some exciting times for play. Before this period, fine and gross motor skills have typically developed some balance and coordination. Throwing, kicking, bouncing and climbing are all feasible now.
Children around this age are also beginning to develop a better understanding of social situations. Learning to share and take turns is an important part of play, and a good portion of these skills are developed during this period.
Understanding peer perspectives and even empathy develops during these years. What better way to foster this development than through the socialization of play!
Imagination, role-playing, make believe — these are all important aspects of play. That is why this age is perfect for playgrounds, jungle gyms, slides and forts of all kinds as these environments set the stage for imaginative play. These places are also great for promoting physical activity, further developing their coordination and other motor skills.
While most children may have already been in school by this time, this age period ranges from 7-9 years old. Physical skills continue to develop and refine as children become more and more coordinated. Children gain stamina and are able to play for longer.
Perhaps the biggest change during this period are the social and emotional developments. Children are spending more time with their peers. They are also developing friendships at a faster pace, some of which can change fairly quickly.
Children this age have a better understanding of teamwork and therefore enjoy play in groups. During this time children are developing a better sense of perspective, and are beginning to compare themselves to others. This stage is where competition starts to come into play. Children enjoy winning but may not fully understand how to be an appropriate loser. It’s during these years where teaching the importance of fairness and sportsmanship is essential.
The years between ages 9-12 bring all sorts of changes in development. Active play continues to be a successful way to release physical energy and competition levels also rise during this age. Team sports or clubs are a great way for pre-teens to continue developing through a variety of activities.
Friend groups begin to get smaller and more tight-knit, and children spend a majority of their time with their peers. It’s during this time of pseudo-independence that children begin to shape their behavior around their friends.
Both structured play (sports, clubs etc.), along with unstructured play (playground, park, etc.) are a healthy way to release energy, stress and stay healthy.
It’s recommended that kids play moderate-intensely for around an hour a day.
The types of play and developmental benefits vary by age. There are a wide variety of amazing activities you can do with your child regardless of their age, and it’s important to maintain a healthy amount of play.
All children need play, regardless of their developmental or physical situation. Some children may benefit from sensory play. If your child has a special need, it may be beneficial to explore different avenues for play to accommodate their unique needs.
Sensory play does what it sounds like it would do — stimulate a sense. The more children are able to develop or better understand their senses, the better they are able to understand themselves. Some children may have sensory differences, and the type of play they would be most comfortable with is different than their peers.
But sensory play can also bring children together. Regardless if a child looks or behaves differently, this type of play helps bring kids together in a common interest in an activity.
Children that may have limitations or disabilities that affect certain senses don’t have to be left out. There are plenty of ways to promote play and allow everyone to experience it together.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and have a blast today! Play is not only a great way to promote healthy development, but it’s fun! Here at Spero Academy we believe in providing students with the right amount of play to help them grow academically, emotionally, and socially!