Why Play Is Important in Early Childhood

Why Play Is Important in Early Childhood: Child Playing
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Play is a child’s job, and it is one of the most important parts of a child’s development. When children play, they are able to express themselves and learn about their feelings, thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Children are also able to use play as a form of self-expression, and it gives clues about their conscious and unconscious thoughts. Self-confidence and self-esteem are also built up for children, by using play. When children spend more time with electronics than using creative type play, children can become deprived of some of these stimuli. It can deprive them not only from the physical aspect of play (burning off excess energy, the development of their gross/fine motor skills) but from the mental aspect of play as well (not being able to problem-solve or make decision, empathy towards others). Only using electronic type of toys, also can take away from a child’s creativity, along with depriving them of social interactions. However, children can use electronics in a limited capacity and it will not take away from these areas of development. Play allows children to develop their life skills; this is why play is important in early childhood.

Four Types of Play

There are four types of play that are more related to certain ages than others. However, these age-related types are not specific for each age; they can be at each age level. The four types of age-related play are solitary, parallel, cooperative, and onlooker.

Why Play Is Important in Early Childhood: Toddler Pouring Sand
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Solitary play, which develops during infancy, is when a child plays by themselves. Solitary play is also common in toddlerhood because of a child’s lack of social skills. Another age-related play that is typical in toddlers is parallel play. Parallel play, occurs when children play next to each other, sometimes with the same toys; however, they don’t necessarily play with each other.

Then during toddlerhood and through preschool, parallel play develops into associative play. This is when children play together, usually without a definite set of rules or organization. During the later preschool years, associative play develops into cooperative play. Cooperative play is when children play together and the children have a definite set of rules and organization. Normally, one child is the leader and children are either in the group or not in the group.

The last type of age-related type play is onlooker play. Onlooker play usually starts in toddlerhood, when children watch others play. Sometimes they might ask questions about what the others are doing; however, they make no formal attempt to join the other children. It is also important to note; that solitary play is important at any age level. It gives children a chance to learn independence and a chance to calm themselves.

There are many different types of play that help in different parts of a child’s behavior, social and physical development. Physical, expressive, manipulative, symbolic, games and surrogate are some of the different types of play.

Physical play is when children utilize physical activities; not only is physical play a good type of exercise, it also maintains a good channel for children to release their energy. Different types of physical play games include running, jumping, tag, etc.

Expressive play is when a child learns to explain their feelings. Children can use different materials to express themselves, such as drawing paper with crayons, paints, colored pencils, etc. and rhythm instruments, molding clay, molding sand, etc. This form of play also allows children to learn to be creative.

Manipulative play is when a child learns to manipulate/take control of their surroundings. Children also learn decision-making and problem-solving. They also learn patterns, sequences, comparisons, size, shapes, colors, textures, etc.

Children use symbolic play to channel their problems. Symbolic play allows children to use an imaginative channel to learn about or change experiences they have experienced.

Dramatic play is when children use play to learn about different situations that may or may not take places, situations they have experienced or situations that scare them. For example, children playing hospital, pretending to be moms and dads, etc. These games can be impulsive or regulated by an adult.

Gameplay is when children use games to play, wither it be digital, card or board games.

Surrogate play takes place when a child is too ill to actually play themselves, they are able to get stimulated by watching another child or an adult play. Also play is not necessarily exclusive and many benefits of play along with different games that help develop certain areas, can and will overlap. These are some of the reasons, why play is important in early childhood.

Two Boys Playing in Inflatable Pool During Daytime
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Why Play Is Important in Early Childhood: Physical Development

Play allows children to develop their gross and fine motor skills. Motor skills are what we use to move our muscles and bones. Gross motor skills help children with their stability and balance, while fine motor skills allow children to manipulate smaller things, so they can self-help themselves (for example they are able to button their shirts or pants).

Physical development and physical activities allow children to be healthier. Children are able to use the physical activities that promote physical development, to reduce the extra energy they have. This also helps children in other areas of their development, because when children are calmer, they are able to focus better. Children are also able to build strong muscles and bones while playing games that promote physical development.

Some games that help to encourage physical development are: going on walks, doing art projects (especially ones that use pens/pencils/crayons/scissors), obstacle course games, games with balls (catch, basketball, etc.), dancing, games with children walking straight lines (tightrope, walk the plank), etc.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive skills are the foundation of all human accomplishments. They are a child’s mental abilities; which, includes their ability to learn, problem-solve, decision-making abilities, perception, language skills, and attention span. Children’s cognitive skills help with the smallest tasks to the largest tasks that they complete. Basically, a child’s cognitive development teaches and controls everything they do; it also helps a child with their other areas of development too.

Some games that encourage cognitive development are: counting games, reciting the alphabet, puzzles, playing with toys, playing/reciting shapes and colors, memory games, building blocks, attention games (Simon says type games), guessing games, sorting games, etc.

Kids in Spiderman and Captain America Costumes
Photo by Steven Libralon on Unsplash

Emotional Development

Children learn about emotions while they are playing. They can learn what emotions are and children can learn cause and effect with emotions of themselves and others (for example: how does Timmy feel if I knock over his blocks or how would I feel if someone knocked over my blocks). Children are also able to reduce their stress and learn how to deal with the emotions of making a mistake. When children create art or build things, they are building their confidence. Some types of games that encourage emotional development are: building blocks, drawing paper with crayons, pencils, pens or markers, sorting games/flashcards (ones that have emotions on them, so they learn what emotions are what), using emotions as a game (such as asking them about their feelings), board games, etc.

Social Development

Social development refers to a child’s ability to interact with the world around him/her. Social development helps children to create relationships with their peers (which can later turn into friendships) and adults. When children create positive relationships with their peers and create friendships, children are able to learn how to resolve conflicts with their friends and these friendships can help to increase a child’s self-esteem.

A child’s group of friends help to reinforce their comfort level, which can lead to an easier adjustment to new and maybe “scary” situations (such as school). Also when children are around other children, they are able to develop their language skills; children are able to practice and learn new words.

Some types of games that encourage social development are games that break the ice (like would you rather), board games, problem-solving games, card games, group games (scavenger hunts), etc.

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