Have you ever heard someone remark about an early childhood program, “All the children do there is play”? At good early childhood programs there is a lot of play – and there should be!
Years of research on children’s learning and development document the many benefits of play for children’s intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and language development. When children play, they are actively involved in creating themes, exploring, establishing environments, solving problems, and developing understanding.
Children play in many ways and all kinds of play are valuable. They play independently, sometimes near each other but with each child engrossed in their own activity. They engage in “parallel play” often using the same toys or even talking, but not coordinating their play. They also play cooperatively, organizing roles and scenarios for group play. As they get older, children are capable of more cooperative coordinating play.
As kids play with each other, they learn to see other children’s points of view and begin to become more empathetic and caring. They come to understand customs and rules in their own culture and to appreciate those of others. They learn to use language in new ways to describe their play and to interact with others. Children develop their muscles and coordination through active play.
Adults can support children’s play by providing space, opportunity, and materials. They can set up areas where children can play without fear of damaging furniture or injuring themselves. They can make sure children have time to choose and become engaged in their own play activities. When they are provided with simple, interesting materials – no newfangled, expensive gadgets required – children can develop their imagination and creativity.
Play is fun but it’s also serious business that pays big dividends to its eager, young investors. Make play a priority in your children’s daily activities!