Why is play important for children?

Play is what kids do, often to the frustration of their parents! As a parent you know what it feels like for children to start to play just as you have finished tidying up or when you are trying to get the kids out of the door. Play, play, play- it’s enough to drive parents to the ends of their tethers.

However, by understanding the importance of play in a child’s development, parents and other adults can fit different types of play into a child’s life in ways that benefit the whole family.

Parents often find it difficult to find time to play with their children, with all the other pressures in their busy lives. Remember children like to play on their own, or with friends, you don’t have to be actively involved in their play all the time – in fact it is good for your child for you not to be involved in all their play. You can also make the most of the “Mary Poppins effect”, where every job becomes a game, is a great way to start with young children. They will enjoy pairing socks with you if you play catch with the sock balls, or make it into a game of find the odd sock. This gets the jobs done and fulfils a child’s need to play.

As children get older they don’t need as much close supervision and again, parents can use this freedom to meet their own needs so that when they do spend time with their children it’s fun and relaxed. Kids don’t mind bad weather nearly as much as adults, so make sure they’re clothed appropriately and rather than try and entertain them inside, let them play outside, run off energy and gain fitness and independence. The freedom can be given in small increments or restricted if trust is broken.

Playing inside doesn’t have to mean the home gets turned upside down and parents have to spend their evening tidying up. Teaching children to tidy up after themselves is a great way to teach respect and responsibility.  Next time your child wants to play with something that they need your help setting up, ask them to tidy up the last thing they played with first. You are much more likely to enjoy playing with your child if you don’t associate it with having to clear up mountains of mess afterwards, and kids love it when their parents play with them so everyone wins.

There are different types of play and each has benefits which will help a child to develop.
∗    Active play helps strength, coordination and all round fitness,
∗    Playing with friends helps develop skills such as communication, cooperation, negotiation, turn taking and helps a child to develop relationships and attachments. It also teaches them how to win, and importantly lose, gracefully!
∗    Free play encourages imagination and creativity which develops skills such as problem solving and helps satisfy, and keep alive, their natural curiosity,
∗    Playing games with rules helps children learn to live within boundaries
∗    Learning a new game helps develop self-confidence, a sense of achievement and problem-solving skills, such as memory, strategy and reasoning
∗    When children play with adults and older children they often mimic the older behaviour, in a playful setting, as preparation for skills they will need in later life. This type of play will also allow games to be played under supervision, which they would not be able to do alone.

This list is not exhaustive, but it does show that there are different types of play and the best thing for a child is a health play diet with a mixture of all different types of play.

British Toy and Hobby Association and Play England for the Make Time to Play campaign