Importance of Play
Most of us know playing is fun for children, but did you also know that it is actually indispensable to a child's development? That's right; child's play is in fact "serious business." It's a child's way of learning about life, and it's part of the training (which children absolutely must go through in order to be healthy) process as they grow into healthy adolescents and adults, too.
Although it's long been surmised that playing is in fact very important for a child's development, today's children don't get to play nearly as much as previous generations did. The most obvious lack is the absence of unfettered play time and the physical activity that goes with it. Today's children often suffer more illnesses because they don't get the immunity-strengthening exposure to the environment they once did when they were allowed to run around outside from sun up to sundown. In addition, more of today's children are overweight to obese, because most of the activities they pursue are sedentary. Also, activities like gym or recess are often cut.
Playing is a child's way of developing his or her imagination. When children play, they don't just mindlessly move from one task to another. Rather, they're utilizing imagination and problem solving skills, and they're developing a sense of community as they make friends, squabble with each other, make up "rules" for games, and develop an overall sense of self within their own little micro-community.
Unstructured play is also very creative. As children move from one "task" to the next, they're developing skills and physical abilities that can't be taught in any other way. For very young children, for example, the pulling, pushing, lifting, dropping, tossing, skipping, jumping and dumping they do with playmates develops very important gross motor skills. As they advance, of course, both skills and social development become more refined and advanced.
Experts generally advise that although you can certainly provide some structured play, where children are given direction on what to do, they also need a significant amount of time with unstructured play, where they figure out what they want to do, with no intervention from adults unless they're going to do something dangerous or otherwise harmful. There are different kinds of play, loosely defined within certain categories, although of course they can overlap.
Creative play focuses on actually making something, such as playing music, cooking (even "pretend" cooking), drawing, painting, making things out of construction paper, building things out of Legos, et cetera. What's important here is that children are allowed to express themselves through whatever media they choose and that they are allowed to have pride in their achievement.
Imaginative play with children involves such things as creating a new game, giving toys personalities and voices, playing word games, role-playing, play-acting, et cetera.
Active play involves movement. All children naturally want to run, jump, catch things, dance, skip, climb things… and basically exhaust the adults supervising them. Seriously, though, children are naturally energetic for a reason, and that's because they need to do active play in order to develop the coordination and physical skills they need. In addition, this type of play ultimately can often evolve into developing teamwork skills, which they will need as they move through life and will need to learn how to cooperate and negotiate with peers.
Simply, play lets children explore the world and themselves, their peers, and what they can do both cooperatively and by themselves. In short, play is a most important social, physical, and psychological development tool that children should never be denied.
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