Have you ever looked at your child playing and stated “Oh how I wish I were still a child, all I would have to do is just play”? The importance of play may be underrated as during playtime children are actually learning a lot and not just playing. Play is an essential part of early learning. During play children: explore, talk, think, imagine, share, make friends, problem-solve, negotiate and so much more!
There are different types of play activities. The following are a few of them and why they are important to help children develop.
- Creative play – this type of play promotes creative expression by sparking children’s imagination. Creative play activities include: drawing, painting, playing with recycled materials, working with play-dough, dance and movement. These type of activities help children to develop skills such as: fine motor skills, thinking skills, basic maths skills such as measuring and sorting, social skills and expression of emotions.
- Exploratory play – children are curious and inquisitive of their environment. Exploration encourages initiative, curiosity and problem-solving. The use of the senses helps children to explore and learn about the world. Examples include: going on adventures, cooking and exploring new areas of the house.
- Pretend play – children frequently use their imagination whilst playing. They pretend they are someone else, experiment with language and their emotions. The older they grow, children’s imagination and play become more complex. They experience a shift from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. This type of play helps children to: develop an understanding of what objects are used for, develop flexible thinking and imagination, and develop their language.
- Constructive play – this type of play encourages children to build and create things. They explore objects, discover things around them how they work and what they do. Activities can include: building towers with blocks, playing in the sand and constructing a house. It encourages children to expand their imagination, to learn how to play with other children and to develop problem-solving skills.
- Cooperative play – children play together in order to achieve a common goal. They interact with each other, take turns, share and also decide what to play and how. This requires them to collaborate together and to negotiate ideas so that they can make a decision. Group roles such as leaders and explorers also emerge. Through this type of play children start to learn how to play games with rules such as team sports. When children learn to follow rules whilst playing they would also be learning that life also has rules and that they need to follow them.
Play is an essential part of children’s development. It helps children to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. Thus, through play children develop several skills which can help them to be successful throughout their lives. They connect with their imagination, environment and people around them. So the next time you see your child play, do not just wish you were still a child yourself, go and join them! Have fun together and help them learn.
Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties.