It is estimated that children from newborn age through seventeen years spend between 3% and 20% of the day playing, and all children play, with the exception of those who are severely deprived, malnourished or severely disabled. There are so many benefits of play. But what exactly is play and why is it so important that every child is wired to do it?
What is Play?
The Webster’s Desk Dictionary of English Language sites over thirty meanings of play. A common definition used among childhood experts is “an activity done for it’s own sake, characterized by means rather than ends (the process is more important than any endpoint or goal).” Early Childhood News sites these supplements to such a definition:
- list, brisk, or charging movement (example: pretend you’re a bear)
- to act or imitate the part of a person of character (example: to play house)
- to employ a piece of equipment (example: to play blocks)
- exercise or activity for amusement of recreation (example: to play tag)
- fun or jest, as opposed to seriousness (example: to play peek-a-boo)
- the action of a game (example: to play duck-duck-goose)
Why is Play Important in Education?
There continues to be masses of research being conducted by various institutes throughout the world about the benefits of play. There have been proven many advantages of play. Most childhood experts agree that children learn best in a safe environment which allows them to explore, discover and play, therefore supporting the notion that play is an important part of childhood development.
During the first three years of a child’s life 80% of the adult brain develops, and 90% by the five years of age. This is due to the rapid production of synapses, or connections between brain cells. Biological research has indicated that play offers immense amounts of brain stimulation and the brain stimulation received during play activities directly influences the formation and growth of neural synapses.
This means that play has a very positive effect of brain development, and the majority of that development takes place in the first five years of life (before a child even attends kindergarten), and it takes place through an activity that comes naturally to all children.
Since so much brain development takes place in the earliest years of life, it is obvious that parents and young childhood educators can play a very integral role in helping their child’s/students’ brains develop to full capacity.
Play has both immediate and long-term benefits.
The Different Kinds of Play
According to the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, there are five primary types of play, and each is important for specific reasons.
Also known as exercise play, includes gross motor activity that supports the physical training of muscles in strength, endurance, and skill. Examples of locomotive play are running, climbing, and skipping, all of which requires balance and coordination. This kind of play is also good for learning minds with evidence supporting that play-ground type breaks from sedentary tasks allow children to concentrate better upon returning to those less-active activities. Experts agree that children need to exercise to help space out cognitive demands.
Social includes playful interactions between children and parents or caregivers. During the toddler stage, children play primarily with adults, or parallel to other children, however playful interaction with other children dramatically increases from the ages two to six years, as does the number of playing participants. This kind of play is important because not only are friendships created and fostered, but also children learn to compromise, negotiate, and share. Social play also encouraged language development as children learn by creating complex story lines together.
Pretend Play refers to pretending an object or person is something other than what it really is. For example, a child might pretend their bike is a race car. Pretend play beings around fifteen months with very simple actions. Examples are when a young toddler pretends to be asleep, or pretends by feeding a doll. Sociodramatic play involves pretend play in a group, where roles are assigned and the narrative line is lengthened. Sometimes in pretend play preschool develop intricate story lines as they learn to share, negotiate, give instructions, and compromise.
Object play refers to the playful use of objects, including dolls, blocks, toy cars, puzzles and such. For infants, object play including mouthing toys, dropping them, and banging. Object play allows children to try out new actions, including exploring and manipulating these objects. Sometimes children will use objects as substitutes for something else, for example when a child may use cardboard tubes with blocks while stacking towers. Children learn cause and effect as well as develop problem solving skills through this kind of play.
Language Play refers to children entertaining themselves via jabbering. Even infants will awake in their cribs and often coo and jabber to themselves as a means of playing until an adult picks them up. Some do the same while before falling asleep. Around two years of age, children may talk to themselves and sometimes laugh. Around three years children begin to use language humorously. (Red means go, green means stop!) During preschool years language skills are developing rapidly. Through language play children phonology (speech sounds), semantics (meaning), syntax (grammar) and pragmatics (appropriate use of language).
Play is Easily Recognized
Although play can be difficult to define, it is easy to recognize. Children actively involved in play may participate in a variety of activities, independently, with a partner, or within a group. Because play has such an impact of cognitive, social and motor development of children, it is not only natural for children to play, but an integral piece to a healthy childhood.
For additional reading:Why Play is So Important by BabyCenter.com Why Play-Based Learning by EarlyChildhoodAustralia.org Play and early Childhood Development by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework by National Council for Curriculum and Assessment The Vital Role of Play in Early Childhood Education by Joan Almon The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Strong Parent Child Bonds by American Pediatrics Association Free Play in Early Childhood by Play England Are you looking for more play ideas? Check out this awesome blog hop! Click on the image below.