Starfish Therapies

December 14, 2009

The Importance of Playing

Playing is an important part of childhood development.  In fact, it could be said that playing is the job of a child.  Unfortunately, in society today we are so busy that we look to avoid what can be perceived as  a waste of time.  This is actually far from the truth.  According to this article there are several key points to playing that may not be considered when it is being replaced by an ‘educational’ activity.  These points are as follows:

  • Play allows a child to be ‘in charge’
  • Play allows a child to learn about their world by looking at cause and effect as one way
  • Play builds self-esteem
  • Play builds social skills
  • Playing with parents helps a child develop superior social skills
  • Play allows an opportunity for a child to work out their feelings
  • Play helps with language development
  • Play allows a child to grow (even beyond their years) by using pretend
  • Play stimulates your child’s creativity

This site provides several articles on childhood play and one of the articles lists  some tips on how to make the most of play time with your child.

  • Follow your child’s lead, it doesn’t have to be the ‘right’ way to use they toy, they may have a new way
  • Go slowly.  Try not to show your child how something works everytime, the key is to provide just enough help so that the frustration doesn’t get overwhelming
  • Read your child’s signals, it can tell you what activities they prefer
  • Play it again!  The more a child practices a new skill through repetition and master’s it the more likely they are to take on new challenges and therefore continue learning.

In addition, it discusses the importance of ‘rough and tumble’ play in infants and toddlers.  In infants this looks like touching, laughing, and holding while in toddlers it involves climbing on the furniture and on people, tossing kids in the air, running, jumping, chasing, wrestling, crashing into pillows and piles of blocks, kicking balls, throwing things, etc.  Some benefits of this type of play are:

  • emotional such that your child is having fun, enjoying themselves and life, releasing energy, reducing tension and practicing self-expression
  • social such that is encourages cooperation, sharing, turn taking, conflict resolution, development of leadership skills, control of impulses and aggressive behavior
  • educational by experimenting and taking risks, practicing skills, building self confidence and self esteem, enhancing communication skills, developing persistence and promoting attention regulation

In Topics in Pediatrics, published by the American Physical Therapy Association it warns to never underestimate the power of play.  In play a child uses their higher order thinking skills, and as an adult if we are playing with them there is a balance where we become ‘encouraging playmates.’  This means that we get to be ‘encouraging playmates.’  The terms Free Play and Therapeutic Play were also further looked at.

Free Play is spontaneous, intrinsically motivating and self-regulating.  This type of play encourages and enables a child to explore their capabilities, experiment with objects, make decisions, study cause and effect relationships, learn persistence and realize consequences.  In addition it can help a child to cope with anxiety, frustration and failure.

Therapeutic Play is used to provide motivation, get the child’s attention, and provide practice for motor and functional skills.  It is a tool to promote sensory processing, perceptual abilities and cognitive development.

On Sunday December 20th in the Bay Area there is a radio show with a call in segment looking specifically at the importance of play for childhood development.

Let Kids Play is a site devoted to encouraging play in children, including kids with disabilities.  In their newsletter this week they talk about the initiative that is being spearheaded by the NFL, United Way and President Obama to get the message out about the importance of playing.

Locally in the Bay Area Palo Alto is creating an accessible playground for all ages.

In summary, play is critical for children to develop many skills.  In addition to promoting gross motor skills it also encourages creativity, role playing, study of cause and effect, how to deal with failure such that persistence occurs. Play is also a great way to encourage repetition to the point of mastery, it makes learning fun.  On top of all that it is a great chance for you to interact with your child to let them take the lead and see what they can teach you!


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