Child’s play has an important role in your child’s mental development. Contrary to popular belief, your kid does not play just to amuse himself. He is building his brain! This is according to the Canadian Council of Learning.
When your kid is playing, he is creating the foundation for his intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills. He is preparing himself to succeed in school and in life.:
- Stacking blocks and mixing sand and water develop mathematical thinking, scientific reasoning and cognitive problem solving. Perhaps this was how Einstein got started.
- Rough and tumble play, tackling, and wrestling develop social and emotional self-regulation. This is particularly important in developing competence of boys. This is how all sports stars get their start.
- Imaginative play develops creativity and flexibility. Your kid is building his brain when he pretends to make a house out of pillows.
- Games of pretend, especially with friends, encourage conversation skills, communication, and social problem-solving skills. This is how good businessmen and negotiators are made.
When your kid plays with other kids, he learns to combine ideas, impressions and feelings with the experiences and opinions of other kids. Kids form ideas about the world and share them. They create a culture and society with their playmates.
Studies also show that free, unstructured play can enhance your kid’s creativity, help him discover what he loves and develop problem-solving skills.
Child’s play should be something that he starts himself, and not imposed by grown-ups. This way, your kid feels competent and self-confident.
When your child plays, he learns things that are by-product of the play, and not its goal. Climbing a tree, for example, does not only test his strength, it also brings out his inner fortitude.
So what can you do to encourage play?
- Allow your kid the time that he needs to explore, discover, and manipulate the environment. He needs long, uninterrupted periods for spontaneous free play. The periods should be at least 45 minutes to one hour.
- Give your kid materials that encourage him to create his own worlds – a stack of cardboard boxes, a trunk of dress-up clothes, blankets, pots and pans, for example.
- Play with your kid, especially if he is doing something new, and he feels frustrated because he cannot quite master a skill. Help him tie those blankets to make a play wall or hold his hand down the slide.
- Let your kid take risks that are right for his age. That’s how he learns to succeed.
- Recognize that mess, roughhousing and nonsense are all part of play. Do not scold your kid for them.
- Get your kid outdoors. Nature provides a rich environment for sensory stimulation. It also encourages boisterous, vigorous, physically active play that develops his strength, balance, and coordination. Physical challenges are also mostly found outdoors.
If you want to give your kid a head start in life, don’t immerse them in books and the computer all the time. Let your kid play.
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