As a child, play, creativity and imagination are some of the most important parts of life. Toys are fun and entertaining, but alongside that enjoyment, active and creative play can provide a stimulating environment within which our children can learn, grow and develop.
The importance of play is no secret, yet it can be easy to overlook the subtler benefits that it can bring to our children. Without play, the next generation would struggle to develop the necessary skills they need (both physical and cognitive) to function successfully in everyday adult life. Play can also help to encourage creativity and foster a youngster’s imagination, not to mention developing all-important hand-eye coordination, social and language skills.
When all is said and done, play really is a wonderful method of helping children develop naturally without having to compromise on the fun aspect of play.
So, as a responsible adult, how can we encourage our children to engage in enjoyable, worthwhile play?
Recognise their Needs
Although we often know our children’s needs better than our own, sometimes, it can be hard to find the best way to support their development. Every child is unique, and what one child loves, another may not find interesting at all. It is your duty to listen to your child’s feedback and observe their actions in order to establish a pattern of what they do and do not like during play. This way, you can then tailor their play activities to suit their personal preferences while also gaining a better understanding of what they may need your help with in the future.
Similarly, you should try and tailor play to any special educational needs your child may have, in addition to factoring in their individual preferences. For instance, sensory playground equipment is a great way to cater play to suit every child’s unique needs and requirements.
Encourage Collaborative Play
Whether it is joint play with a friend or sibling or simply time spent creatively playing with you, collaborative play is a great way to develop social and language skills. Many children become more creative when they are playing with others, as everyone will be sharing ideas and actively contributing to the play.
Of course, depending on the activity, collaboration can sometimes be a little more challenging. If your child is refusing to share a favourite toy, for instance, collaborative play can make a great way to develop their sharing skills – though it might take a little time! When you are initiating collaborative play with your child, it can be a good idea to observe their play and mimic their actions and patterns through play before beginning to join in with your own creative ideas.
What Type of Play is Best?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, just as there is no right or wrong way for a child to play. As a responsible adult, you understandably have a degree of control over your child’s play as you will be the one choosing toys and introducing your child to new activities and play environments. However, the majority of people will say that it’s important to let your child lead when it comes to play. You should provide them with options, then allow them to choose which activity to do or which toy to play with. Whether it is traditional toys, outdoor play equipment or arts and crafts, allowing them to make their own decisions is another strong way to foster decision-making skills and develop individuality.
Above all else, while it’s important to recognise the benefits that play can have on our children’s growth and development, we should never lose sight of the fact that enjoyable play is a vital part of childhood.