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The importance of play in early childhood

What is play? Many of us associate “play” with just having fun. But “play” is a much more than that. Friedrich Froebel, a German educator who created the concept of the ‘kindergarten’, believed that “play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

Let us look at how play support a child’s development and learning:

1. STIMULATE EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

Playing can promote a child’s brain development in many ways, including providing crucial life experiences to set the grounds for brain growth. When provided with an environment enriched with play, sensory play and play materials, the child has the best chance to perfect life experiences to build that foundation.

2. IMPROVE INTELLIGENCE

Early playing is also found to be associated with higher intelligence later in life.One study by the University of Arkansas shows that regularly offering toys to infants to play with leads to higher IQ by age three. Psychologist Edward Fisher found that playing could enhance a child’s cognitive, linguistics, and social development.

3. SPARK CREATIVE THINKING

One of the most obvious benefits of playing is that it increases a child’s creativity. Many studies have found that playing is highly associated with divergent thinking which enhances creative thinking. The freedom of pretend play and free play allows children to be creative. Some studies have also found that creative adolescents tend to have imaginary friends in childhood

4. IMPROVE COMMUNICATION, VOCABULARY, AND LANGUAGE

The link between early play and later communication skills has been shown in several research studies. Pretend-play has been found to be especially beneficial because it allows young children to practice their vocabulary when they speak and try to understand others. During social play, they often repeat each other’s words and actions to reach agreements.

5. PROMOTE IMPULSE CONTROL AND EMOTION REGULATION

Self-regulation is one of the most essential skills for settling into school. Well-regulated children are able to wait for a turn, resist the temptation to grab objects, control negative emotions, and persevere through challenging activities. Emotion regulation is not only essential for academic success, but also child’s social success. Generally, children who exhibit better emotional control are more likable and socially competent.

6. GROW SOCIAL COMPETENCE AND EMPATHY

Playing is crucial for social development in children. Unstructured active play with others significantly helps to cultivate social skills. While playing, the act of pretending as well as negotiating enhances children’s social skills. Playing also provides opportunities for children to learn social interaction. While playing together, children learn to cooperate, follow the rules, develop self-control, and generally get along with other people.

7. BETTER PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH

Play develops emotion regulation, which is important for a child’s resilience and mental health. Playing that involves physical activities promotes motor skills, strength, and endurance, which benefits physical health.

8. TEACH LIFE LESSONS

Play helps children develop the ability to solve problems. When children act out life’s problems when pretend-playing, it helps them cope with the struggles in their own ways. It also provides a safe opportunity for children to rehearse skills and future social roles.

When children try out various roles, they learn to take on different perspectives, which will further assist them in abstract thinking.

Parents who play with their children form a stronger bond with them. Even a simple game like peekaboo can create so many magical moments to bond with children. After all these happy, playful moments are some of the most precious gifts we can give our children.

By Pravda Nair
Sunderji Early Intervention Centre, 2021

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