Play Glorious Play
But why exactly is play so essential? And why is it vitally important for kids no matter how old they are?
A typical day at a kindergarten or early childhood centre includes almost unlimited time for free play. There may be a few structured sessions for eating or group activities but the majority of the time is given to the kids to decide what they want to do. Unfortunately, once children enter their primary school years, the time given to them for free playing is greatly reduced to make room for what are deemed more important activities.
For those not familiar with the many benefits of play, it may look like kids are just messing around and having fun but not really learning anything of any importance. Thankfully the research is clear and it is now understand that play is children’s most important work and provides practice for so many essential skills that will be needed throughout their lives.
Here are just a few of the benefits –
- Building of social and emotional skills
Kids process their emotions and learn how to get along with others. They may role-play a trauma or difficult situation to help them process what happened. In group play they learn to lead, follow, listen, negotiate, compromise and respect the needs of others.
- Practicing fine and gross motor skills
Whether it’s dressing dolls, building with blocks, jumping on a trampoline or riding a bike, all of these help your child practice and improve their fine and gross motor skills.
- Planning and organizing
If you’ve ever tried to follow along while kids invent a new game or activity you will know how much planning and organization this takes. Or what about that incredible invention or experiment they want to create? They will need to plan and organize their materials and space so they have everything needed to complete their project.
- Igniting imagination and creativity
One minute they are a cat spy stalking through the jungle and the next a super strong invisible monster out to save the World. Playing make-believe and trying on different characters helps with social skills, language development and helps build self-esteem. Creativity is now being acknowledged as one of the most important skills our children will need in the workplace when they grow up so it’s important to keep their creative spirit alive with lots of free play.
- Problem solving and critical thinking
Looking at things from a different perspective and coming up with new solutions are skills that many adults struggle with. But kids get a chance to practice these skills every day if given ample time to play. How to play a 4 person game with only 3 players, how to support a tall structure so it doesn’t fall over, how to convince mum to buy more glue to make slime. Kids are expert problem solvers! Next time you are stuck on something and can’t come up with a solution, ask your child for their help. You may be surprised to find out what they can come up with!
- Resilience and patience
Cardboard castles fall down, knees get scraped, someone doesn’t get their own way, game instructions are confusing. Play is full of ups and downs that give kids the perfect opportunity to fail and fall, get back up, keep trying and learn from their mistakes and failures.
- Concentration and mindfulness
There are plenty of apps available now to help adults train their brain through concentration and mindfulness. And while these products can certainly be useful and I encourage mindfulness practices, do our kids need these if they are given plenty of time for free play? Unlike adults, whose minds tend to wander a lot, kids are naturally mindful and train their concentration when playing. When they are putting together a new lego set or playing shops they are in the present moment and focused on what’s happening right then and there.
- Relaxation and joy
If the only reason my kids played was to relax and bring them joy then that would be enough for me. Our World is full of pressures and obligations and our kids are expected to keep up with our busy schedules most of that time. Play lets them relax so they can experience the lightness and freedom that comes from being able to control their own World, even if just for a little while. And when they feel relaxed, empowered, connected to themselves and others, then they thrive in every other aspect of their lives as well.
So the next time you see your child “just playing” and think there must be something more important for them to be doing, look again. There’s a strong chance that you will notice that they are already doing something very important. And you can feel great knowing that you are supporting them to gain necessary life skills and finding their joy and passion simply by allowing the gift of free time to play.