Play is universal throughout the animal kingdom - whether it's a puppy chasing its tail, or young birds swooping through the air. The importance of play to youngsters should not be underestimated. Play is an essential part of growing up and researchers believe it's critical to ensure children reach their full potential in life. Research in animals show that brain connections develop during periods of play, and there's no reason to suppose the same is not true of young humans. Parents don't always understand the importance of play however, and in today's competitive world, the temptation is to stop your children "wasting time" and to put the time to what they believe is more constructive use.
For a child, however, there is no more constructive activity than play. When analysing the importance of play, particularly if you're tempted to introduce a more "worthwhile" activity such as flash cards, educational computer games or dancing lessons, you should take into account the following points:
Play allows a young child to be "in charge." Think about this - in their everyday lives, they're small and powerless, always being told what to do, and how to do it. Without an adult around, they're running the show!
Play helps children learn about the world in which they live. They can investigate and discover, test their theories, spatial relationships, explore cause and effect, societal roles and family values. Such is the importance of play, that there's virtually no area of life about which it can't teach a child something.
Play builds self-esteem. Children will often play at something they know they can do well, at which they can be successful.
Play builds social skills. Children will begin playing with inanimate and non-threatening objects, like cuddly toys, bricks etc, so practising their interactive skills. Later, playing with other children will build on this foundation as they learn to share, take turns, assert themselves and begin to empathise with others.
The importance of play with parents shouldn't be underestimated either, as research shows that children whose parents play with them ultimately develop superior social skills.
Play also provides the opportunity for children to work out their feelings. The importance of play in dealing with difficult or unpleasant emotions is immense. A child who's worried about going to the dentist, for example, may deal with the anxiety by setting up a clinic for dolls with toothache.
Play helps with language development. Think of the vast number of words a toddler uses during play, many of them repeatedly, enhancing their language skills.
Play allows children to grow beyond their years. They can pretend to be all sorts of things in play - a doctor, a surgeon, a civil engineer even !!(think of those bricks)
Finally, don't forget to consider the importance of play in stimulating your child's creativity and imagination - making a castle in the sand, or a car garage out of a shoe box, taking an order in their own (imaginary) restaurant or dressing up as a king or queen - these all allow children to stretch the limits of their world and experience the fun in make-believe.