There are few things in life more enchanting than watching a small child chat away to an imaginary friend, race their pedal cars around the garden or create their own magical world out of Lego.
But whilst watching children of all ages enjoy themselves is every parent’s delight, play actually serves a very important purpose in their development. And depriving children of the ability to relax and play can be a barrier to them reaching their full potential.
- It isn’t just humans
Play is not just crucial for humans, it also plays a vital role in the animal kingdom too. Whilst you are unlikely to see a lion focussed on a Lego tower any time soon, their cubs nevertheless have their own way of playing.
The sight of a puppy chasing its own tail is really rather comical whilst a kitten batting at a ball of wool is just endearing. However, these are all ways which animals practice their skills indirectly and learn the limits of their own body. Research in animals has also shown that brain connections develop rapidly during periods of play and experts believe the same process occurs in humans.
- Play isn’t a waste of time
It is easy to dismiss play as a frivolous waste of time and encourage children to pursue more meaningful endeavours. Whilst educational play, such as flash cards, have their place, it is also crucial to allow the child to organise their leisure time as it allows them to develop a number of interpersonal skills which are difficult to attain elsewhere.
When a child decides what they are going to play with and how the game will go, he or she is using her imagination and experiencing what it is like to be in charge. In every other aspect of their life, children have few choices so play provides them with the freedom to build their self esteem and experiment in a way which is comfortable for them.
It is particularly helpful to encourage your child to explore their creativity by providing them with supplies which don’t directly tell them how to play. Cardboard boxes, dressing up clothes and craft materials are all great tools – and you could well be surprised what your child comes up with!
- Personal skills
Although it may be difficult to believe that talking to a teddy bear can help your child relate to others as they grow older, it certainly seems to be the case.
Children start by playing with very inanimate objects in a basic way and as they get older transform their playtime into far more complex interactions. This could involve holding tea parties, getting stuffed animals, figurines or dolls to talk to each other. This is good practice for the social skills they will need as the grow up.
Parents may feel a little bit silly taking part in their child’s imaginary world but suspending reality and wholeheartedly entering the world your little boy or girl has created can provide additional benefits. Research has shown that children who have experienced plenty of playtime with their parents go on to demonstrate far superior social skills.
- Working through fear of failure and worries
Play is also an excellent medium for children to express any concerns they may have or release tension. For example, a child worried about going to the dentist could act out the scenario with some dolls, and provide reassurance to the dolls that everything is going to be fine. This is a self fulfilling prophecy and acts as a way for the child to subconsciously reassure themselves.
Children can sometimes be apprehensive about trying new things in case they aren’t very good. This becomes particularly evident as they grow older. Playtime allows them the personal space to ‘try’ things in an informal capacity and develop confidence in their own abilities.
- Active play
Not every child is blessed with sporting ability but there’s no reason why every boy and girl shouldn’t be able to have a lot of fun being active.
Running, climbing, swinging, balancing and jumping combined with sensory exploration and problem solving tasks can help outdoor play to appeal to every child, regardless of their natural inclination. Visit a site like Monster Play to see their range of play equipment.
Helping children to develop strength and co-ordination in a non-threatening environment can be key to developing a healthy mentality towards their body and exercise.
So whether your little one loves talking to their teddy bear, building a monster tower in the sand pit or simply getting lost in their own world of play, sit back and relax and enjoy watching them at their best. And perhaps even let your own inhibitions go and join them – and remember how much fun it really is to be a child at play!