Children's Learning Adventure
Dec 04, 2019
The Awesome Power of Play
Playing With Your Toddler Benefits You and Your Child
Play is important. It is how children learn to understand themselves and interact with others. It also helps them understand and interact with their world. Play is an essential component of learning, socialization, reflection and, most importantly, fun.
Much of a child's future is shaped in their first few years of life. In fact, 80% of a child's brain development is completed by age three and studies have shown that play is a critical element in that development. It is so essential that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized play as the right of every child.
How Toddlers Play
The way children play changes as they age. These changes are often a reflection of their growing social abilities and how they engage with other children.
Before age two, your child will engage primarily in solitary play and is mostly uninterested in playing with other children. They may, however, engage with you and other adults.
Around the age of two, you will often see your child watching other children play, although they likely will not try to play with them. This can be confusing for many adults who may perceive this as shyness or awkwardness on the part of their child. But it's a natural part of learning to play.
At age two, children will start engaging in what is known as parallel play. In this stage, you'll notice your child playing beside or near other children, but again, it is unlikely they will actually engage with other children.
Between the ages of three and four, a child will start to interact with others during playtime. But like all new skills, there will be a noticeable lack of coordination in this type of play.
There are also two distinct types of play, structured and unstructured. Both are equally important for your toddler.
Structured play is generally adult-led. It teaches children rules and how to follow directions. It involves team sports, games and other organized activities like dancing and art. Swimming and music lessons are also a form of structured play. Most toddlers will enjoy thirty minutes per day of this type of play, and as they grow older, they will need more of this adult-directed play.
You can create opportunities for structured play with your toddler with:
But just like the best scientists, children also need time to experiment and try new approaches. This is where unstructured play comes in. It's the entertaining kind of play in which every possibility is open to your child (within reason). Toddlers should be spending at least one hour each day in free, unstructured play.
Remember watching your toddler ignore a new toy and instead play with the cardboard box it came in? This is unstructured play. It is critical to helping your toddler become more social and increases both their ability to cope with stress and build cognitive skills like problem-solving.
To encourage unstructured play, hand your child a few tools. Stacking cups and some sand or water are a great start. The important thing is to allow your child to direct the play. A few more tips:
- Allow them the time for free play
- Let them be messy
- Limit their screen time
- Take them outside
- Buy open-ended toys (those with rules or clear directions). Blocks and balls are good examples of these.
Benefits of Play
Experts, researchers and teachers tout the power of play. It provides numerous benefits for toddlers including the development of critical life skills that include :
- Self-regulation/Self-control development
- Cognitive Abilities
- Leadership skills
- Creativity and Imagination
- Flexibility and adaptability
Play also assists in a toddler's physical, social and emotional development. When children engage in specific types of play, particularly outdoor play, they develop physical skills such as balance and coordination. Play also encourages the development of social and emotional skills, which they will use in later years to navigate more complex social situations well into high school.
The Payoff for Parents
Play also helps develop critical communication skills. Children learn new words, practice negotiation and learn storytelling skills. It also provides them with an opportunity to exercise their imagination. The same is true for their parents.
Play permits us to be silly and spontaneous and its important that our children see us like this occasionally. It allows us to be children again and have fun. Play also provides a chance to study our children and learn their body language.
During play we learn when it's time to intervene and when it's time to give our children space. Finally, play teaches adults patience and understanding. While it might be frustrating to watch as your child's stack of blocks continues to tumble down, and you may be tempted to show her exactly what she's doing wrong, resist. The vital part of play for parents, especially when it comes to unstructured play, is that it gives our children space and choice.
Find time for play, the payoff for both you and your child is enormous.