I spend three days a week with a class of twelve children, ages four and five years old. As one of my boys was leaving the class to go home with his mom last week, I overheard her ask her son, “How was your day today?” Her son replied, “Great! All we did was play today!”
Playing is one of the most beneficial gifts we can give our children. While we may look at play as simply the “surface value” of what we see, play is much more than that. Playing carries with it an amazing number of benefits and learning development strategies which children need later on to help them on their journey of learning.
First of all, playing builds coordination. Children are more apt to take greater risks when playing, simply because they are taking on the persona of someone or something else when they play (most of the time). While a child might be too timid to run and leap on their own, they might become the most agile gorrilla when playing in their make-believe jungle. Playing allows children to try new skills out without feeling pressured or threatened. There are no expectations when playing, only the imagination and the child dictate what will happen.
Speaking of the imagination, playing is a huge tool in building imaginations. Children who can imagine and create will more easily be able to hone in on higher order thinking skills and problem solving skills as they grow. Children can learn to solve problems in a non-threatening environment. While playing, children can create their own situations and devise solutions to their problems.
Playing also fosters good social skills among children. By playing in a positive way with peers, children learn how to appropriately treat others and how they like to be treated as well. Children realize in a positive environment that good manners and nice words will carry them far in life, moreso than bossy, critical behavior. Playtime is an excellent opportunity for children to learn social skills that will stay with them forever.
The mom of the child mentioned in the beginning winked at me as she walked out the door to her car. She knows the power of play and the important skills playtime addresses for children. Play isn’t just for fun; it is a powerful tool in learning life’s lessons.