Parents rarely associate playing with learning but they intuitively know that playing is good for their children. In fact, it turns out that play benefits our children in many ways.
Playing is fun but it is also essential to a child’s development and growth. Here are some of the things your child is learning and experiencing, and the most important play benefits.
Play Benefits In Early Childhood
Play Sparks Creative Thinking
Many studies have found significant connections between play and divergent thinking. This type of thinking by exploring many possible solutions generates creative ideas.
For example, in one study 52 children aged 6 to 7 years old were randomly allocated into two groups. The children from the first group played with salt-dough and children from the second group were assigned to a structured exercise involving copying text from the board. At the end, this study revealed that the first group was significantly more creative in subsequent craft activity than the second group. (1)
Another study from the Eastern Michigan University revealed that free play enhances divergent thinking. Particularly, pretend play as observed by psychologists, was related to improvement in subsequent divergent thinking. (2)
However, pretend play requires children acting out and imagining different scenarios. It seems quite possible that imagination can fuel creativity. An interesting fact is that creative adolescents also had an imaginary companion in childhood. (5)
Play Benefits Health
It promotes regulation of emotion that is important for a child’s mental health and resiliency in the future.
Play benefits motor control, strength, physical health, and endurance because it often involves physical activities. (6)
Play Enhances Early Development and Stimulates Brain Growth
This was found by the psychologist Edward Fisher who analyzed 46 studies done on children’s play. Such improvements ranging from 33 percent to 67 percent result from an increase in children’s language and adjustment and decrease in their emotional and social problems.
How does play benefits here?
We know that a cardio exercise leads to bigger heart. The play is like an exercise for the brain so, the more enriched environment leads to more active and bigger brain. (7)
Link to language, communication, and vocabulary learning
The Connection Between Early Social Play and Later Communication Skills is Evident
For example, one research found that if a toy play is initiated by an infant and if the mother responded by naming and manipulating the toys, the baby developed language 3 months earlier than the infant whose mother responded only with maternal coordination. (8)
The presence of play, especially pretend play, can predict these children’s performance in pre-reading, language and writing. (9)
By listening to each other when they play, children learn these and through social play they learn to reciprocate actions and words and to reach agreement.
Play Teaches Life Lessons
Play helps develop the cognitive ability and motor skills to deal with future tasks in life.
Playing out life’s problems helps children cope with the troubles in their own ways.
Play Improves Memory, Intelligence, and Learning
Rats living in a stimulating environment are smarter. A larger cerebral cortex in their brains allows them to have a better memory and learn faster. They swim to safety faster or find their way through mazes.
Similar results have been found in experiments using monkeys, cats, and birds.
Experiments cannot be done on kids but one research by the University of Arkansas reveals that offering toys in infancy brings to higher IQ at age of 3 years and again at the age of 4.5 years. Also, play benefits for various cognitive improvements that we will discuss below. (14)
How You Can Help Boost the Play Benefits
- Keep a box of everyday things that your child can use during pretend play. Adult objects in kid versions, such as play plastic dishes and telephones, help facilitate role playing, and toys with more than one use or open-ended objects, such as blocks, give the imagination unlimited possibilities.
- Set up a play group or schedule play dates for your child and his friends. Introduce activities or games and then keep an eye on the children’s progress and behavior. After this, you’ll know which social skills your child is great (cooperating, sharing, or being assertive…) and which he may need some help with.
- Set a good example to get your child moving. Start by engaging in physical activities at home. You can play toss beanbags, hide-and-seek, or play some danceable music. Outdoors, ride your bikes together, kick a soccer ball back and forth, and play in the sandbox.
- Every time you notice that your child doesn’t understand or needs guidance respond kindly, mimicking the right type of response. And ease the tension by getting your child to laugh.
- Join in your child’s play, but only if you are invited to do so. And give your child a complete control in the game. Keep in mind that this is his world and that he is in charge. The attention you show your child while you are playing together is crucial to building his self-esteem. Pretend along with your child, and show him that you accept his make-believe world, that things he’s interested in are important and fun to you, too.