Read this post to discover 10 eye-opening reasons why play is important to child development.
I’ve done a more research-heavy look into the importance of play here – so if science is your thing and you want to check out all the references go on over and have a read!
Why is Play Important?
Play is something we do because it’s fun. It can, but doesn’t have to, have an end goal – it’s all about enjoying the moment.
It is also one of the most important ways a young child can learn and develop.
Play is deemed so important that it has been recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child! (There’s a UNICEF child friendly version of the rights here).
Ginsburg wrote “play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children”.
That tells us some of the many ways in which play can be beneficial to our children and there are even more!
So now let’s have a look at 10 reasons why play is important to a child’s development:
1) Play Can Aid Physical Development (fine and gross motor skills)
“The development of motor skills is critical for a child to move independently and to interact with his or her environment meaningfully and usefully” (Gerber et al 2010).
Most gross motor skills (large movements such as crawling, walking and jumping) are practised through play.
These are important because they allow a child to move and pick things up.
They also help children develop spatial awareness, coordination and perception of size.
Fine motor skills, which are small movements such as pinching and grasping, are also practised through play.
These motor skills can help with everything from writing and holding a spoon to doing up a zip.
2) Play is Important For Social Development
As children grow older and start mixing with other children, play can be an extremely important way for them to develop the social skills they will need later in life.
Through play, children can learn about taking turns, sharing, being empathetic and can teach them to listen to others.
These skills will help them to make friends and make them better at groupwork.
Role-playing can also help boost social development.
In role-playing, a child has to be able to read others and be able to express themselves both verbally and nonverbally.
It can also help them understand their feelings as well as others.
3) Reasons Why Play is Important for Emotional Development
Emotional development is the process of learning how to control and manage emotions.
It’s a skill many children are still learning and play can help them develop it further.
According to Piaget, a Swiss child development psychologist, play supports emotional development by providing a way to cope with and express their feelings.
Through make-believe play, children can create an imaginary character or plot to match their feelings.
They can then learn how to cope with feelings such as fear, frustration or sadness in a situation that they control.
This can help them to be better prepared if a similar situation arises in the future.
4) For Parent-child Bonding
In a world or distractions, where our amount of free time seems to be constantly reducing, it’s important to free up as much time as possible to spend with our children.
Spending time with them will make them feel safe and secure and know that there is someone there to look after them.
And what better way to spend time with our children than playing with them?
Ginsberg wrote that play is extremely important as “it offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children”.
Through play, we can strengthen our relationships with our children and develop their trust.
Play can also give us a chance to see the world from their viewpoint and allow us to remember the wonder and excitement each new discovery brings. This bonding goes both ways!
5) Reasons Why Play is Important For Cognitive Development
Sandra Walker Russ, in her book Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy, highlighted some key areas in which play can support and help develop cognitive functions.
She stated that it can help with organisational skills; thinking outside the box and imagining different outcomes; understanding symbolism; enhancing imagination; and with that it helps develop problem solving skills.
It can also help boost a child’s mathematical and number skills. Children can develop number sense as they play with blocks and construction materials and learn to classify objects as they would when using a shape sorter.
Counting is also often involved in many games. Think hide and seek, or if they are playing shops – “I want ten hamsters and forty four potatoes please”.
It’s often also involved in many playful nursery rhymes. Think ‘Once I caught a fish alive’.
6) Sensory Development
Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – our 5 senses. They shape how we perceive the world and through a combination of some or all, how we interact with it.
Play, particularly ‘messy’ play, can be really important for developing a child’s ability to use their senses.
According to Bernadette Duffy, messy play is all about using using the senses to have fun and explore different materials. It’s all about experimenting!
Through sensory play children will learn about the properties of different materials independently.
For example, that water is fluid and they can splash it around; play dough, is solid but can be pulled, prodded and moulded; and bubbles, although looking solid, could pop at the slightest touch.
Children can also learn about different sounds and smells as they experiment with different materials.
Taste related play involving different fruit and vegetables has even been found to increase the foods that children were willing to try (Coulthard et al 2017).
So it’s even possible that play could get your kids to eat more veg!
7) Reasons Why Play is Important For Language Development
Jacqueline Sachs, a linguist, wrote that play helps develop narrative skills such as storytelling and talking about past events in a structured way.
When we play with our children it gives us a wonderful chance to model correct speech and increase their vocabulary by explaining what all the new and exciting things around them are called.
Games such as peek-a-boo are important to early linguistic skills as they have a simple structure.
In games like these, children can:
- Recognise when it is their turn to participate
- when they need to follow vocal cues
- And when to make their own vocalisations in response.
These all set a strong foundation for their language development.
8) Physiological (what’s happening inside the body) Development
Play gives children’s bodies the chance to get to know themselves and can help improve the coordination of different organs that need to learn to work together.
When a child wants to reach for something the brain needs to be able to send signals along the nerves to reach the hand and tell the muscles in the fingers to pick that thing up.
This is just one example but thousands of different connections need to be established and practised for the child to be able to act in the way they desire.
Play has also been reported to help in the development of connections within the brain.
9) Reasons Why Play is Important for Independence and Self Confidence
Ensuring children have the time to play on their own is important as it allows them to nurture their independence and to begin to make their own decisions.
Elis and Arnold wrote that this can make them feel adventurous, competent, and confident in taking the initiative.
Canning agreed and wrote that independent play leads to a sense of empowerment and a chance for self-discovery and an understanding of who they are – “ it (play) acts as a validation of self-portrayal and the development of uniqueness.”
10) Practice Makes Perfect
Play is a great way for children to experiment with things such as hitting, grasping and crawling – skills that can’t be taught by us, their parents and carers.
It is also a way for them to practise and consolidate all the new skills they are learning all the time.
So there we have it! Lots of reasons why play is so important to the development of our little ones.
But what can we do with our children to encourage play and aid the development which comes hand in hand with it?
- Well firstly, it’s important to ensure that your child has the time and space to play in a safe environment with a wide selection of toys and activities for them to use.
- It’s important to vary the activities available so that they don’t get too bored with any one thing. I know our little one’s attention span is still developing so if he gets bored with something it’s good to have something else ready.
- If they are focused, allow them the time to play and give them lots of encouragement. Our little boy will really concentrate on trying to stack blocks and it’s great to see him trying so hard. We make sure he gets a big round of applause when he does it and he beams up at us and seems really proud of himself.
- Getting involved yourself is great as you can model what to do – it is also brilliant for bonding.
- It is, however, important to ensure that we allow them the chance to play independently as well. This will let them follow their natural curiosity, improve their independence and individuality, and allow them to practise and consolidate all the skills that they can only learn on their own.
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it interesting. If you did I suggest reading this post as it goes into a lot of these points in more detail and links to lots of interesting research as well.
Please share and/or subscribe if you liked it (it would really help me as I’m just starting out) and comment below if you have any feedback or questions or want to share any ways in which play has aided your child’s development.
Let’s nurture those neurons!
References and further readingClick here for references
- All about… messy play
- Children’s empowerment in play
- Developmental Milestones: Motor Development
- Play and Brain Development as Complementary Nonlinear Dynamic (Chaotic/Complex) Systems
- Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy
- Play with your food! Sensory play is associated with tasting of fruits and vegetables in preschool children
- Play, dreams and imitation in childhood
- The educator’s guide to emotional intelligence and academic achievement: Social-emotional leaving in the classroom
- The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds
- The role of adult‐child play in language development
- The Role of Play in Child Development
- To Be Successful-Let Them Play
This is great post. I like the the list of references and further reading. I recently found great info at The Pedagogy of Play from Project Zero & the partnership with the Lego Foundation at https://www.legofoundation.com/en/learn-how/knowledge-base/ .
Thanks – glad you enjoyed it!
Yes, Lego foundation is a great resource for all things play related. Another great site with lots of freely available literature is PEDAL at https://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/centres/pedal/. Worth checking out if you’re interested in how children learn through play.
This is a great post. Play is so important, and it develops so many aspects of development. You covered all of those aspects so well!
Thanks so much for your kind comments! I’m glad you enjoyed and yes play is so important!