Play is any activity indulged in for the pleasure it gives and not for some end result. The person plays for play’s own sake. Play differs from work, which a person engages in because they want the end result it can achieve.
Throughout history, kids have spent hours playing with parents, siblings, babysitters, and friends. Play is so important in child development that it’s been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.
Play is important in several ways
- Physically, play helps develop a child’s growing muscles. It also lets out nervous energy, which, if not expressed, makes children tense and irritable.
- Socially, play leads children to behave in a social manner. Without it, the child becomes selfish and domineering. They learn to share, cooperate, and make friends from their play with others.
- Educationally, play teaches young children to perceive shapes, colors, sizes, and textures.
- Play is the crucible in which imagination and creativity can be cultivated and expressed. The child who pretends to be a cowboy, a mother, a fairy, or a firefighter is demonstrating some knowledge of these roles and is working through their own ideas about what they entail.
Little children’s play passes from simple motor activities with toys to socialized play with other little children, and then to dramatic and constructive play. The fifteen-month-old child, for instance, likes to put objects into receptacles. The two-year-old likes to play beside but not with another child. The three-year-old will play with a few other children in cooperative projects like building bridges and buildings out of blocks. The four-year-old prefers playing with other children in complex dramatic play. The five-year-old will work on projects that last more than a day and likes to go on excursions with friends.
Finding the right balance
The key to helping your child reach their potential is to find the right balance between work and play. Here are some recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Give kids ample, unscheduled time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress;
- Spend unscheduled, unstructured time together with your kids;
- Encourage your children to engage in active play (running around or playing tag) in lieu of passive entertainment (video games or television);
- Buy your children “true” toys, such as blocks or dolls, that encourage imagination and creativity;
- Get involved in your child’s school and take an active role in ensuring that all kids are getting ample free time.
Remember, play is a cherished part of childhood. Finding the right balance between work and play will make your children happier, better adjusted, and more prepared to conquer the world.