The Importance of Play In Early Childhood

Why does play in early childhood matter? Through play, children can explore the world around them, develop their social skills, build their creativity, and learn important cognitive and motor skills. And as Fred Donalson, a play speacialist puts it: "Children learn as they play.. Most importantly in play children learn how to learn." Indeed, play should be a part of your chilld's learning strategy.

And play that involves physical activities could help them expend energy and decreases the likelihood of childhood obesity. Yes, play contributes to the overall well-being of a child. Play in early childhood is a gift to all children.

But nearly everyone knows this. So, why are we talking about this? Because as parents and caregivers, we may be so wrapped up in our world and give the children the most convenient alternative, electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles, and so forth. And this is only one of the reasons many children are not getting enough play.

Here are a couple more reasons:

  • Too much emphasis on academic achievement and structured activities. Many children are overscheduled with after-school activities such as sports, music lessons, and tutoring, leaving them with less free time for play.
  •  Family dynamics: With more parents working outside the home and fewer extended family members available to provide childcare, children may have less access to outdoor play areas and social interaction with other children for their safety. Sadly, in our ever-changing world there is a need for caution. When I was little I could take walks on my own for miles. Today I won't let my ten-year-old daughter go around the block on her own. Yes, safety concerns and a focus on risk management may be limiting children's opportunities for outdoor play.

While there may be valid reasons for each of the above, it is important to recognize the importance of play for children's development and well-being. We need to schedule the time for play. Infact, play is considered a basic right of a child as noted in an article on the importance of play by the American Academy of Pediatrics. How can you do that?

How to Include Play in Early Childhood?

Including play in early childhood is critical for children's development and learning. You do not need much to introduce play, just be creative. Years ago, we did not have a lot of toys we played with old furniture, rocks, and sand, explore the backyard and looked at the animals there. We weren't bored because it was exciting to do different things at home and outdoors.

Studies show that many children today, also prefer simple basic things over fancy and elaborate toys like their counterparts from the past! Here are a few things you could include:

  1. Provide Open-Ended Toys: Open-ended toys are toys that can be used in a variety of ways. These types of toys allow children to use their imagination and creativity to come up with new ways to play with them. Examples of open-ended toys include blocks, play dough, and art supplies.
  2. Encourage Pretend Play: Pretend play is a great way for children to develop their creativity and imagination. Encourage your child to engage in pretend play by providing them with costumes, props, and other materials that they can use to act out different scenarios. You can be a part of the play too!
  3. Incorporate Nature into Play: Nature provides a great opportunity for children to explore and learn about the world around them. Take your child on nature walks, encourage them to play outside, and provide them with materials such as leaves, rocks, and sticks that they can use in their play.
  4. Make Time for Unstructured Play: Unstructured play is play that is not directed by adults. This type of play allows children to explore and learn at their own pace, without the pressure of having to achieve specific goals or outcomes. Make sure to provide your child with plenty of time for unstructured play. You will be amazed on what they come up with.
  5. Limit Screen Time: While technology can be a useful tool for learning, too much screen time can be detrimental to a child's development. Make sure to limit your child's screen time and encourage them to engage in other types of play.
  6. Encourage Collaboration: Collaboration is an important skill for children to develop. Encourage your child to engage in social play and work together with others to achieve common goals.
  7. Provide a Safe and Supportive Environment: Children need to feel safe and supported in order to engage in play and learning. Make sure to provide your child with a safe and supportive environment in which they can explore and learn.

Childhood play may be as old as humankind. The way children play these days may have changed, but the main idea and principles remain the same.

To recap, play is not just about fun and games—it's a vital part of a child's development. Through play, children enhance their imagination, creativity, problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence. Whether it's building forts, dressing up as superheroes, or simply running around in the park, play allows children to explore their world, develop social skills, and foster a sense of joy and wonder. So, encourage your little ones to embrace the magic of playtime, letting their imaginations soar and their smiles shine bright!

Lastly, unless you have the funds for it, 'play' does not have to be expensive. Look around your home, you may find some creative, fun, and safe things your child can play with. And remember to share this post with a parent who may find this helpful.

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