The importance of play to children's development
Jackie Guzman, Extension Educator, Scotts Bluff County
Play is a crucial part of your child’s development. It starts in infancy and should continue throughout his or her life. When you play with your child it not only helps you to build a positive relationship and strengthen your bond with your child, but has additional benefits as well.
Play provides many opportunities for children to learn social, communication, and academic skills while building confidence and positive self-esteem. Through play you can help your child learn to solve problems, explore his or her creativity, and build vocabulary. Children learn important friendship skills like turn taking, sharing, and being empathetic.
Keep in mind that unstructured physically active play may lead to healthier children, especially when it replaces or helps limit screen time.
An essential benefit of play is that our children begin to learn social and communication skills – sharing, turn-taking, problem-solving, and so on – that will help them be more successful when playing with other children. When children have these skills, it often makes it easier for them to make friends.
Giving suggestions, being helpful, giving complements, and understanding how and when to give an apology are all important friendship skills to model when playing with your child.
How to add more playtime with your child into your busy schedule:
- Brainstorm when you would have 10-15 minutes a day to play with your child, and be certain to write it down in your calendar.
- Ask your child for suggestions as to how to spend time playing with you and make a list of all the ways you can play together.
- If you have more than one child, consider taking this opportunity to spend some one-on-one playtime with each child. You can also plan family fun nights that include play or games.
- Time spent in the car is another good time to play and to develop skills, you can play age-appropriate games that incorporate looking for colors, shapes, letters, and words, etc.
- Don’t forget books. Ask your librarian to suggest books that teach friendship, and play skills.
Follow Your Child’s Lead
When playing with your child remember to follow your child’s lead. That means to allow for play situations where the child is in control and the adult follows the child’s lead. It is important that children be the decision-makers during play, choosing what and where to play, choosing roles for each player, and choosing how play will proceed.
These suggestions can better guide you in how to follow your child’s lead:
- Follow your child’s lead means waiting, watching, and then joining your child’s play
- With very young children, talk, talk, and talk about what your child is doing. The adult imitates the child’s play and uses “talk” or “narration” to facilitate language development. This helps your child remain engaged.
- Encourage your child’s creativity and imaginative thinking. Display artwork or stories in a prominent place (the fridge) or put them in frames. Create an art corner with art supplies and paper for children to be creative. Ask children to make up their own stories or create their own endings to familiar stories.
- Watch for your child’s cues. Most children aren’t very subtle when they want your attention, like tugging at your pant leg or greeting you at the front door when you get home from work. Planning a specific time to play, so they know you have set aside time for them, may sometimes eliminate them demanding your time.
- Avoid power struggles. Remember you can be intentional about what you might like for your children to learn from playing. However, keep it simple and allow your child to direct the play.
- Most important have fun together!
For more information and ideas, visit child.unl.edu.