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Why Play is SO Important (and how best to encourage it)

Written by Debbie Channing. Try to ensure your child gets some 'tech-free' play - it's best for developing imagination and creativity. Try to ensure your child gets some 'tech-free' play - it's best for developing imagination and creativity. Play takes many forms and helps babies and toddlers develop. In this post, I will explore some of the benefits of play and share some ideas to help encourage play.
"Play is the child's work" - Maria Montessori “Play is the work of children” - Jean Piaget “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play." - Maslow
From 0 - 2 years, play is all about discovery through repeated body movements, mouthing objects, shaking them, throwing and learning through the physical senses. At this stage play is usually solitary and centres solely on themselves or the things around them. From 2 years onwards, children are now likely to enjoy imaginative play, such as dressing up and acting out fantasies. They may use objects to symbolise other things e.g. a stick as a sword or a set of stones as a family. Many children don't start to play with others in a co-operative manner until they are about 7 years old. Whatever a child's background, culture or gender, young children love to play. If we ask children why, they will probably reply, 'Because it is fun!' Some examples of the different ways children play Play takes many forms – here are a few examples: Physical play - throwing and kicking balls, jumping, running, climbing, rolling, obstacle course. Creative activities - playdough, painting, sticking, colouring, collage - the finished product isn't important, it is the process that matters. Messy play - sand, water, mud, junk, runny playdough. Imaginative play - acting out situations using dolls, models and stones to represent people or places, such as a home corner, shop keeper, waiter etc. Pretend activities - puppets, dressing up, plays, role-play, pretending to serve dinner and making dens under the table. Maths skills - counting, measuring & sorting, groups, colours, jigsaws, tea parties, pairs, pouring water or sand from one container to another. Cognitive development - singing, counting, computer games and memory games. Pre-reading skills - story telling, being read to, looking at books, doing jigsaw puzzles or playing matching games. Solitary play - playing with teddies, cars and dollies. Co-operative play – playing with other people such as in team games, or simply taking turns. Free play - lead by the child. Why is play so important? Through play children learn fine and gross motor skills - how to hold, manipulate and use objects eg crayons, bricks, riding a bike etc. They get the opportunity to develop their imagination and language. They extend their focus, communication & concentration and develop early literacy and numeracy. As their play develops and includes other people, they learn valuable social skills such as turn taking, sharing, decision making and problem solving. How to encourage Free Play All children need opportunities to engage in free play in order to develop creativity. Toys that have a single purpose tend to restrict free play. In order to develop their creativity and imagination, give your children dressing-up clothes; large boxes they can turn into houses, boats, planes etc; arts and crafts activities; constructional toys etc. It is also reported that unstructured play is an excellent way to decrease stress, leading to calmer children. Try to plan some 'special time' with your child every day when they can decide what you are going to play. In this ever-changing, gadget- filled age, ensure that you have some 'tech-free’ play, giving them your full attention. This will help to expand their imagination. Manage your time and allow yourself to relax - this will give messages of calmness and control to your child. So hopefully we can see the importance of play in a child's development. Ensure that they have a safe play environment and be creative - toys do not have to be expensive. Ideas for creative toys/games:
  1. A saucepan and a wooden spoon make a fabulous drum kit.
  2. Flower pots, a piece of hose and other safe garden equipment can be turned into a simple obstacle course.
  3. Rice, lentils and beans can make a wonderful collage.
  4. Leaves can be rubbed to make amazing patterns.
… the possibilities are endless! Most importantly, ensure that you make time to play with your child. Remember that children don’t spell love 'L-O-V-E'... ... they spell it 'T-I-M-E'. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Debbie Channing, Parent Coach & Chief Executive of Time 4 Change, has over 20 years’ experience working with parents & children. For further information, support and advice please see her website - www.debbiechanning.com - or email her at Debbie@debbiechanning.com