How Play Helps A Child’s Development


“The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” – Erik H. Erikson

Hide-and-seek, patty cake, peek-a-boo, and tag are some of the most common games that children play. With the advancement of technology and the influence of media, playtime for kids has significantly decreased. Some people view playtime as merely fun and games for children, but did you know that it actually plays a role on your child’s development?

Play is a Child’s Work
According to Maria Montessori, “Play is the work of the child.” Play starts when your child is an infant; and according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the US Department of Health & Human Services, the development of synapses (cognitive structures that connect and organize the brain by forming pathways) occurs at an astounding rate during a child’s early years. The growth of every area in the brain depends on stimulation – playing helps stimulate your child’s senses, and develops your child’s gross and fine motor skills.

Playing with a rattle or any musical instrument develops the sense of hearing. According to the Urban Child Institute, the sense of touch, which develops prenatally as early as 16 weeks, is essential to a child’s growth in physical and emotional abilities; and in linguistic, cognitive, and social skills. Cuddling, stroking your child’s hair or back, tickling with the use of a feather, and other physical acts stimulate the sense of touch.

Mildred Parten, a researcher at the Institute of Child Development in Minnesota, has conducted a study on how play develops in children and categorized play into 6 types. While the type of play may vary from one child to another, various types of play develop certain skills. Parallel play teaches your child the concept of “mine” – the importance of property and ownership. Associative play helps your child learn how to share, cooperate, communicate, and get along with others. It also develops your child’s problem-solving skills. Expressive play helps kids vent out their frustrations, feelings, and emotions with the use of art materials, pounding benches, and instruments. When children portray a certain role, such as that of their mother, they learn to use their imaginations, become more creative, and learn about the roles of each family member.

Playing not only helps kids discover the world, but also themselves. Physical activities such as swinging on monkey bars help children understand their own space and improve their gross motor skills. Building blocks, finger painting, and squeezing play-dough are some of the activities that help develop your child’s fine motor skills. Unstructured or free play helps in the social, emotional, and cognitive development of your child. A child-driven play allows your child to exercise decision-making skills and discover what interests him or her most.


Playing with your child helps create a lasting bond. According to Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., a psychologist and play therapist, “Play allows parents to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence and connection.” It allows parents to see the world through their child’s eyes, while taking a glimpse of their earlier, younger years at the same time. Playing with your child makes him or her feel important; it sends out a message that you are giving them your full attention, and this helps build a stronger relationship and better communication between you and your child.


The Right to Play

Play is more than just a game. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes the importance of play in a child’s development. During the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the basic rights which every child is entitled to is play. Article 31 states that children shall have time to rest and play and equal opportunities for cultural and artistic activities.


Play in Today’s World

The rise of the tablets, computers, and game consoles coupled with the need for both parents to work in this unstable economy have significantly decreased playtime for some children; minimizing the benefits that children get from play. Recess period has also been significantly reduced in some schools to give more time and focus on Math and Reading. Doing this may be academically good; however, this does not offer a physical release and does not give children the time to take a breather from schoolwork.

There is more to play than just fun and games. The benefits of play are limitless. Although it may be challenging to squeeze in some time to play with your kids with the present economy and changing needs of the society, always remember that everything is about balance.

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