The importance of play in children's lives

Children spend hours playing. But what does it mean for them? And how can we encourage children to play more often? Here’s how play is important in a child's development and how it can help them succeed later in life.

Play is a child’s natural form of communication, and being playful promotes bonding, happiness, and laughter. Play is spontaneous, meaningful, and enjoyable, and it’s something that children often choose to do, rather than being told to. It begins from the very first moment infants are born as they move their arms and legs around, discover their bodies, and observe the world around them. 

As children move through the stages of play development, they gain a greater understanding of themselves and others, and through play they become increasingly able to process their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  

Why do children need to play?

Play is an integral part of healthy development; just as adults engage in sports, mindfulness, music, or other hobbies in order to decompress after the hustle and bustle of everyday life, children use play in a similar way. Children use play to make sense of their experiences as it’s the most natural, comfortable, and safe medium for them to engage in. It’s also a self-healing process in which children can explore situations they might find disturbing. 

Play provides an opportunity for conflicts to be resolved and feelings to be communicated. Whether it was an argument with a sibling or friend or being told to stand in front of the class at school when they didn’t want to, it allows children to cope with these uncomfortable situations and make the unfamiliar familiar. 

Therefore, let children play or be playful with them after you’ve argued over doing the dishes or who started it first when they fight with their sibling. This will not only help them make sense of what happened but also bring them back into a calm state, ready to reflect on what happened earlier. 

How can I incorporate playfulness into my household?

Playfulness can be incorporated into all instrumental care

Something as unpleasant as changing dirty nappies can become a fun game of peekaboo, tummy tickles, or blowing raspberry kisses. This symbiotic enjoyment also wires babies’ brains towards positive relationships and the expectation that future relationships with others will also be enjoyable.  

Follow your child’s lead when you’re engaging in play time together 

It’s rare that children get much control as they grow and develop. They’re often told what to wear, what to eat, and what they’re going to do. Therefore, when your child enters their play world, try to follow their lead and mirror them. 

If they pick up a horse and say it’s a frog, try to let go of your adult rational instinct and let it be a frog! In the same sense, children don’t need lots of new and shiny toys as their imagination can work in wonderful and adaptive ways. 

Give your children time to sit, without an immediate plan

In our current fast paced culture, we’ve been trained to constantly keep moving like hamsters running in their exercise wheels. Rarely do we or children have time to sit back and reflect. Children need time. 

Junk modelling is a great opportunity to give children the occasion to let their creativity emerge without the constant threat of the sand timer running out before their next activity. By giving them empty cardboard boxes, old containers, egg boxes, empty loo rolls, and some masking tape, they’re free to use their imagination and problem-solving skills to turn discarded items into spaceships, towers, houses, creatures, or whatever they decide to invent.

It’s important to note that the most creative and free play comes following a period of rest. 

‘Funsequences’ in multi-children households

As parents instil their values in their children, there’s significant importance placed on rewards and consequences. However, it’s also important to acknowledge what might be difficult for a particular child. 

‘Funsequences’ can be a great activity for the whole family to engage in and to recognise everyone’s hard work. This can look different for each child or parent. For example, if the children in the household are 10, 6, and 5, the hard thing for the 10-year-old might be having to learn and recite their times tables, and for the 5-year-old, it might be getting dressed and ready for school by themself. 

This allows the whole family to develop a healthy work and play balance. Each family member gets to choose some potential activities for the Funsequences which they can ‘claim’ when they’ve done the hard stuff. 

Examples of activities might be: a baking project, a family trip to the fair or the beach, a family walk and picnic, or an hour of board game play. It’s important that these activities are carried out together and don’t include electronic devices

See below a ticket you can print out and use to make Funsequences even more worthwhile in your family:

Final thoughts from Kami

Encouraging play is one of the best things you can do for your children. It helps with healthy development, as well as inspiring creativity and giving them a means to sort through any emotions they might be feeling. Making sure your child has a good amount of play in their day-to-day life is key, and by doing so you can ensure they grow up happy and healthy.

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