5 a day for play

 Play has a Purpose

Play is important and has a pivotal role in a child’s learning and development. Children want to play because it is fun and fascinating and their motivation to play is similar to hunger, thirst or tiredness in ensuring their bodies and brains get what they need. Human beings are clever, resourceful and creative. These amazing capacities of the human mind start early in life and depend on our being curious to learn and explore through play. It is as important that children play as it is for them to receive a high quality education. Education builds on the natural capacity to seek knowledge which is refined through experimental and exploratory play. So play is important, it has a primary role in creating the foundations for learning. However quality and variety of play is vital and a balanced menu of play can be compared to a balanced diet in creating a healthy body and mind. Just as we try to avoid a junk food diet, despite its attractions, so we should also ensure that our children are not relying on a narrow, restricted range of play or even falling into the trap of over reliance on electronic games.

file000266980809Here’s my selection of a top 5 requirements to create a happy, healthy play experience.

5 a day for play

  • Be active –get your body moving throughout its whole range both indoors and outside.
  • Be generous with playtime – it’s a core activity for childhood so play needs to move up the priority list to have impact on a child’s development and progress.
  • Think variety – physical play, social play, constructive play, creative play, fantasy play and games with rules are the varieties of play and each contributes to the capacity to learn.
  • Think ages and stages – as children change over time so does their need for different types of play. Avoid trying to race ahead, the brain is like a strong building and needs firm foundations.
  • Encourage independence and self-reliance – play puts children in charge of what they do and teaches them to explore, to experiment and to plan activities as part of the quest to learn about themselves and the world around them.

Types of play

Physical play – essential for developing mobility, strength and flexibility this is your child’s equivalent to your sports or exercise regime. The drive to move is highly motivating to children and consequently nature gives children high energy levels so they can accomplish this important aspect of their developing body and brain. Climbing on, over and under things, crawling through confined spaces and twisting and twirling around stationary objects is all part of the daily testing out of what my body is capable of doing now. As growth and development brings increased capacity with it then the need to test and extend what is possible is always there. Many parks and children’s play spaces have great adventure equipment but equally a natural environment of woodland or open space is fun to visit.  

Social play – the ability to communicate and get along with others gets plenty of practice through social play. Parents are the young child’s first social play partner but as children get older they also look to their siblings and their peers to have fun together. Social play usually incorporates at least one of the other forms of play as children decide what they want to do together. Younger children struggle to play together and share but this begins to come together from around the age of four and improves over the course of early childhood. The give and take of relationships is a complex life skill which challenges us throughout life so as much early practice as is possible is definitely an advantage

Constructive play –working out how things go together and creating structures is a fun part of childhood whether or not you plan to be an architect, builder or engineer. From wooden bricks though ready-made construction kits or re using things around the home – all children love to make things.

Creative play – painting, drawing, modelling with play dough are early forms of art which sharpen observation skills, develop manual dexterity and exercise the imagination. Later on some children will enjoy writing stories or making up plays and mini dramas to act out.

Fantasy play – going beyond your immediate world and experience is not only absorbing for children but allows them to explore other possible ways of doing things or imagine what it is like to be someone else. Fantasy play gives a child control, whereas in the adult world they have limited say in how things are done. Fantasy play is also a great way to deal with scary or difficult feelings by imagining what you could do if the problem went away or if you were powerful enough to decide what should happen. It’s no coincidence that superheroes are important to children, superheroes can do all the things children wish they could do but can’t.   

Games with rules – most of life has rules and codes of conduct which for the most part we work out for ourselves by observation rather than through formal instruction. Games with rules build that capacity to learn a set of expectations and to practice abiding by them even when it isn’t what you would choose to do. Games with rules teaches children self-discipline and to share with others.

Play is as important as a healthy diet so what would you choose as your 5 a day essentials?

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About hooperj

I am a child psychologist and wellbeing coach and author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish which is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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One Response to 5 a day for play

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – June 15 Edition | drowningintheshallow

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