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Play is such an integral part of our children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development and well-being and the benefits of play extend to adults as well. Hello, endorphins! When we as parents not only actively initiate play but also invest in having conversations about play with our children we foster a deeper connection between us and communicate a level of respect, trust and love while simultaneously laying the foundation for an emotional state most conducive for learning.

“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.”  

Kenneth Ginsburg

Despite the relational and developmental benefits of play for adults and children, our current hurried lifestyles, changing family dynamics and over prioritising of academic pursuits have significantly decreased the role and time for free, child-centred play. This trend has even spilt over into the kindergarten curriculum – significantly reducing children’s free time to accommodate academics. 

There’s a reason why the United Nations lists play as one of the basic rights of children. In today’s #Parenting blog AoS shares 6 reasons why parents should invest in and protect their children’s play.  

  1. Cognitive Development

Neuroscientists have reported that a combination of unrestricted/free play, toys, and games, can alter a child’s brain chemistry and development. The cerebral cortex – the brain area associated with higher cognitive processing, benefits from all forms of children’s play more than other parts of the brain.

From birth, children’s brains have an overabundance of brain cell connections called synapses. Synapse overproduction allows information to be captured from early childhood years of play. A childhood enriched in unrestricted/free play, sensory play, and toys is essential for cognitive development. The lack of play in a child’s life can cause the neuron connections related to play to be lost. Play is instrumental in children’s brain development. 

  1. Imagination and Creativity

The art of play provides the perfect setting for children to develop their imagination as they create their games or get lost in make-belief worlds. They can make up their own rules, and learn how to implement, follow or adapt said rules. Studies have shown that creativity is closely tied to divergent thinking, which is the thought process that explores many possible solutions and generates new ideas.

One such study was conducted on a group of fifty-two children between the ages of 6 and 7 years who were randomly assigned to two different activities. The first activity required the children to copy text from a chalkboard. In the second activity, the children were tasked to play with salt-dough. All the children were then required to perform a creative project that would be judged by a panel of ten judges. The judges found that the projects created by the salt-dough group of children had higher creative qualities than those who were in the other group.

  1. Emotional and Mental Wellness 

As adults when we feel overwhelmed, we self-soothe by going to the gym, playing music, going for a walk etc. These activities are more than a distraction and ironically most of them incorporate some form of play. Play also affords children the ability to process and understand their emotions and also learn how to navigate the world in a manner in which they can understand and process. 

It is through the art of play that our children are equipped with skills to navigate working with others and in groups, how to share, negotiate, solve conflicts and speak up for themselves. Play-related activities have been shown to help lower children’s levels of anxiety, stress and irritability and help boost their joy and self-esteem.

  1. Social Development 

One study sought to understand how communication benefits from play. Researchers observed what happened when an infant began playing with a toy and found that if a parent responded to the infant by naming the toys, the baby – when tested three months later – would have better language skills

Another study, conducted by the University of Georgia, observed sixty-five kindergartners over four weeks. The presence of play, especially dramatic play, was found to improve children’s performances in pre-reading, language, and writing.

  1. Literacy 

From birth, children are wired to learn a language and they develop and build their language and literacy skills primarily through play. Babies and toddlers learn new words when adults are intentional about using words to describe what they see, hear and do. Games that involve songs and poems connect syllables to beats and this helps children in developing listening skills and the sounds of and in words.

Playing with small toys also helps children develop their small hand muscles which they need for writing. Concentration games such as ‘I Spy’ help with developing their observation skills and attention span and also are reported to promote reading comprehension.

  1. Physical Fitness 

The human body is wired to be active, especially at a young age and play that incorporates physical activities not only strengthens connections to the brain but also provides them with opportunities to become comfortable in and with the use of their bodies – promoting gross motor skills, strength, endurance, and physical health.

The art of play allows children to create and explore a world in which they feel safe to explore and overcome some fears, learn how to socialise, focus, increase their vocabulary and grow in confidence. As you can see, play is not something to distract our children with, it is a vital part of their development and must be encouraged and protected by us as parents.