Play holds immense benefits for children and helps in:
1. Building creative skills - Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly my 3-year old comes up with creative activities and games all by herself. Through play, children explore their environment since they are curious by nature.
2. Learning new concepts - When children repeat words and practise activities they have learnt at school or by watching TV, new concepts stick.
3. Building persistence - A good example here is the persistence that a child applies to seek you out during a hide and seek game. Because play encourages children to explore, take risks and experiment, they have an outlet to practise anything they have learnt on TV or at school until they get it right.
Play is to children what work is to adults. Children take playtime as seriously as adults who work hard to get their jobs done and gain promotion. Play is how children learn about themselves and the world around them. It also has lots of benefits for the child’s holistic development. Some of these benefits are as follows:
- Play is a form of relaxation. Emotionally, the child expresses zest for life while releasing energy.
- Play enhances the child’s cognitive, affective, social and physical development.
- The child learns to solve problems when he works out puzzles and plays with educational toys that allow him to match shapes.
- A child’s ability to come up with answers to the puzzles he plays with boosts his self-esteem and confidence.
- On the social front, the child learns to cooperate with his peers whenever he is involved in group activities. He also learns to share his toys.
- Physically, play is a form of exercise. When a child runs, he strengthens his leg muscles.
- A child’s attention and language is developed when he is engrossed with toys. Since children find toys interesting and exciting (especially when they are still new), they will take time to discover its features and what can possibly be done with it. For example, a child can check if a new toy car is durable by bumping it with other cars or objects to see if it tumbles or breaks easily.
- When he plays with others, he will compare his toy cars with others' and thus, improve his communication skills.
- Play reinforces the teachings of education.
- While at play, the child is able to apply what he or she has learned in the classroom. For example, a magic slate can show which words a preschooler has learnt.
- A child discovers the shapes and colours available in the world when allowed to wander and explore his backyard, park or garden.
- A child who has a toy clock can learn the order of numbers and how to tell the time, even if it’s only the hour.
- Exposure to different shapes can help a child determine which shape allows an object – such as a car – to roll.
Structured play is one that is led by adults with the objective of teaching children new skills. Examples include team activities like sports and showing a child how to build a tower of blocks. This type of play is also beneficial because it teaches children teamwork, how to follow direction, strategy and other relevant social skills. This sort of play has however been criticized. Some argue that it may stifle a child’s creative skills and imagination. Also, the more children are required to stick to a structured schedule, the more stressful the activity can become for them over time.
There are no disadvantages to play – there are only disadvantages to the type of games the child plays or environment the child plays in. Only allowing a child to play according to your rules limits his thirst for discovery and exploration. Exposing your child to ill-mannered playmates could also expose him to bad behaviour.
Because unstructured play has the potential to expose the child to more risks, parents tend to limit the extent to which the child can go. Families that can help children to strike a balance between the 2 forms of play are sure to enjoy the benefits of both.