children playing outside with ball
Parenting

The Importance of Play In Your Child’s Development

Every day, as adults, we go to work. On a daily basis, we problem solve, create, and comprehend many elements of our careers. The same holds true with a child. They go to their playroom or preschool everyday to “work.”  In a child’s eyes, her play is her work. Through play, she solves issues, creates new things, and learns about her surroundings.  In today’s society, unstructured, uninterrupted play time is hard to find, especially in preschool settings. It’s important to expose your child to this type of play on a daily basis both individually and within groups.

The research increasingly supports the importance of play, but the government overlooks this research. They see how well other countries are doing academically and assume we need more academics to top the world. However, if the government looks closely, they will see that these top rated countries provide students with more play time. In Finland, one of the top performing countries, students don’t start school until they are 7 years old and at that time only attend school for half a day. This allow students to have more play time in the vital years where the brain is rapidly developing.

Preschool is important in Finland and all children have a right to preschool despite their income level. All preschool teachers hold a bachelor’s degree as well. The government trusts their teachers to make educational decisions that best support their students. Finland’s government doesn’t interfere as much as the US. And get this, students in Finland get at least an hour of recess a day! It makes you wonder why our government is doing the OPPOSITE of the top performing countries.

Why Play Is Important for Your Child

So why is play so important? During play children interact with their world. They recreate what they have learned by watching adults. You have probably heard of the saying that if we can teach it then we fully understand it. In a way, play is how a child “teaches” what they learned. They practice what they see. Play also gives children time to explore new things and make sense of these things. Below are just some of the skills a child learns, develops, and strengthens through play.

Coping skills- how to deal with different situations

Limits- what he can/can’t do

Problem solving techniques– trial and error

Sharing

Cooperation

Executive functioning skills- According to WebMD.com, these skills are a set of mental skills that helps you get things done

Resilience- recover quickly when things go wrong

Taking initiative

Taking risks

Making mistakes- and knowing that it’s okay to make them! I teach my daughter that mistakes are learning opportunities.

Regulation of emotions- We are working on this now. Sicily throws a temper tantrum and screams at the top of her lungs when something doesn’t go the way she thinks it will.

Verbal and nonverbal skills

Imagination- something a lot of kids lack these days

Social skills

Perseverance

Cultural awareness- differences among peers

Leadership

Creativity

Self-awareness

Boundaries

Flexibility

Fine and gross motor skills

Self-direction

Making choices

Making sense of the world- practicing what he saw adults do

Language/vocabulary

Seeing others point of view

Independence

Develop their personalities

These are all skills that a person uses in his/her everyday life as an adult. We learn and perfect these skills as children through our play. Without the opportunity for unstructured, uninterrupted play, our society will not function when these children reach adulthood.

Unstructured, Uninterrupted Play

Uninterrupted Play

So what does unstructured, uninterrupted play look like? Unstructured play is open-ended and has endless opportunities. The child can use the materials any way she likes. That means, as an adult, you don’t interrupt the child to show her the correct way to use the tools. Let her explore, problem solve, and figure it out on her own. Piaget once said “Each time someone prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely.” Blocks, dolls, and art materials are all good resources for unstructured play as well as the Melissa and Doug toys at the bottom of this post.

When you think of unstructured play materials think of “old-fashioned” toys. The toys without all the fancy buttons. During unstructured play, a child is using their imagination to create their own objectives. Adults are not telling them what to do. As a child grows older, you start to see the process of forming their own objectives as they interact with others and create a plan for their play time. Unstructured play time is a time for them to do whatever they want with the materials they choose. Unstructured play allows the children time to develop deep understanding of the world around them.

Make sure you give children a good chunk of uninterrupted time to play. A child may be on the verge of a breakthrough right when you say “Let’s go. It’s time for dinner.” Let them choose when play time is over. If you have to leave, watch for a break in their concentration to tell them it’s time to clean up. Don’t interrupt a child’s thinking because you never know what he is discovering at that exact moment. If you have to interrupt a serious play time, give them a gentle warning. Say something like “I know you are busy right now, but it is time to go pick up your sister. I’m going to finish getting ready. You have 5 more minutes.” This way they know what to expect in the next few minutes. Uninterrupted also means no distractions such as the TV or loud dancing type music. I will play classical or quiet type music during our unstructured play time. We’ve been listening to the Fantasia sound track the past few weeks.

Read also: 10 Tips For Letting Your Child Play Out Independently

Structured vs. Unstructured Play

kids having fun

Structured play is guided by specific objectives set forth by an adult. There is usually a set of rules for this type of play. Examples of structured play are games, puzzles, and organized sports. Toys that play music and have buttons to push are structured play toys. Parents can sometimes turn unstructured play into structured play when they tell a child how to use a certain material. For example, your child might be wearing a bowl on his head. You really don’t know why he chose to put the bowl on his head, but you tell him that he has to use the bowl to put food in. Now you have turned your child’s unstructured play into structured play by giving him rules for his materials. He was robbed of the chance to figure out how to use the bowl on his own and developing a deep understanding of the material.

So which is best? Both! Find a balance of both structured and unstructured play each day for your child to reach the maximum benefits of play.

Read also:

Why Uninterrupted and Unstructured Play Important in Early Childhood Development?

When children are provided unstructured and uninterrupted play time, they might choose to experiment with new concepts. This boosts the child’s self-esteem and makes them better problem solvers. Uninterrupted play is a different manner of connecting with children than what has previously been considered “the norm,” and it may seem challenging at first. Even with more contemporary parenting styles like “attachment parenting,” there may be an assumption that children must be led or directed in order to know “what to do.” This seems to be particularly true when youngsters attend a class. It is undeniable that children need our assistance and supervision.

We are so ready to teach a kid the “correct” way to do anything rather than just letting them be and go through the process on their own. This is something I’m guilty of from time to time. I often have to remind myself that children’s play may be irritating, but that’s alright. Working through their frustrations will be the most beneficial to them. Children need basic play objects that they can freely and totally control in order to make sense of them, investigate their qualities, search for correlations between them, and experiment with and utilise to test theories. This is true even for the tiniest of newborns. A young child may explore and experiment to their heart’s content with basic play things. They are wired to explore and learn in this manner.

Uninterrupted play with other children indicates that youngsters are learning how to collaborate with one another and how to resolve problems. Playgrounds and outdoor areas are perfect for unstructured play because they provide limitless opportunity to explore and engage with the outside world. Children may race through a play structure, run in open areas, and make up their own games depending on what they see. Children do not need huge wide places for imaginative play; a quiet nook or beneath the kitchen table may be just as entertaining.

Read also: Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in Seattle

What is unoccupied play in child development?

Unoccupied play, commonly known as “infant play,” is what your kid does from the age of zero to two years old. Unoccupied play is when your kid is alone, moving their arms, legs, hands, and feet about imaginatively, learning how it feels to move. When you offer your kid a rattle or a plush animal and let them to touch and move it around, they may be practising unoccupied play. Babies are the most likely to engage in unoccupied play. Everything is new to them, and they are learning about their surroundings. While the infant prefers to stay in one location and makes apparently random motions and gestures with no apparent purpose.

The first step in educating your youngster to like being alone is to show him how much fun it can be. This procedure starts before he can crawl. Being alone is, to some part, a taught habit, and if you never leave your infant, he will never learn to calm himself. Don’t be concerned with how you feel the child should play. Keep your expectations in check and let them decide. They will learn to pay attention to their own promptings and signals when they are in charge, making learning exciting, engaging, and developmentally appropriate.

What are the consequences of play deprivation?

Play deprivation during the first ten years of life seems to be associated with poor early child development, which ultimately leads to melancholy, trouble adjusting to change, weaker self-control, a higher proclivity to addiction, and unstable and shallower interpersonal interactions. A child who is deprived of play may rely only on his or her family for all activities. This raises the danger of the kid being more reliant on their parents or relatives, as well as issues with the youngster developing decision-making abilities.

A child may be unable to function at all if neither parent is there, which may be reason for worry even when the child is put to school. Play, particularly outside, is precisely what children need (now more than ever) in order to connect and recover through our collective pain. One study effort focused on a group of sixteen abandoned infants residing in a ward of a Romanian paediatric hospital. The child , aged one to eleven, have been subjected to chronic neglect and abuse. They’d spent the most of their lives chained to a cot. Although they could see and hear the other children, they were unable to leave their beds and so had minimal social contact. Despite spending the most of their lives on a hospital ward with fifteen other children, they developed no ties with one another.

Read also: Camping With Kids – Tips For Parents

The Adults Role

The role of the adult is simple, provide open-ended materials that pique your child’s interest, provokes questions, and provides a challenge. Watch your child make discoveries and provide materials to build onto their understandings. Offer guidance, but remember not to show them how to do something. Ask questions to help your child reach the conclusion on their own. Be their support. Remember they are working hard every day to learn about their world!

Happy Playing!

Your Turn:

What is your child’s favorite toy/material to play with?

AboutKara

I’m a writer, new mom and foodie. I love sharing what I know while making others feel beautiful. On this blog, I share my healthy lifestyle, simple meals, fitness tips and experiences.

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