Parenting is a very personal thing, with each of us developing a style that best suits us and what we would like for our children. Some people believe in a stricter, more structured approach to raising their children, focusing on teaching the child responsibility, while others believe that the best way to go is to give the child almost complete freedom, allowing their kids to learn by way of experience and making mistakes. Regardless of which type of parent you are, some facts are very difficult to argue with, and as far as I’m considered, the benefits of play fall into that category.
Research has shown that play benefits a child in a variety of ways, including both mentally and emotionally. Play aids in the development of creativity, thinking skills, language development, fine motor skills, general intelligence and even physical brain growth.
It is generally agreed that the 5 most important and valuable types of play are
- constructive play
- motor or physical play
- social play
- structured or guided play
- fantasy play
You may be wondering what exactly each of these terms mean and how best to include them in your child’s daily activities… well, let’s take a look…
Constructive play refers to play that involves creating or building and can make use of a wide variety of materials and techniques. This type of play helps a child develop creative and fine motor skills, and offers an opportunity to practice problem-solving as well. Most art and craft activities fall into this category, and would be a great way to introduce constructive play into your child’s day. However, even if your little one is not particularly into art activities, other options such as blocks or lego-type activities will still provide the same benefits.
Motor or physical play
This refers to games or activities that have a broader ‘purpose’ than just ‘fun’. These activities should include exercises or actions that target different muscle groups and different skill sets, for example, hand-eye co-ordination with ball games or balance with activities such as hula hoop play.
Social play is just that… play time with other children. Social play focuses on interaction and teaches children about acceptable ways to interact with others in an age appropriate way. Kids learn to take turns, be considerate and listen to each other. This kind of play is also very important in helping a child develop the ability and the confidence to express their own opinions and ideas.
Structured or guided play
This type of play usually includes an adult, although an older sibling can sometimes take this role, and requires that person to ‘lead’ the direction of the play. This can be done by asking questions, making suggestions or even having a few ‘rules’, resulting in a situation that requires the child or children to think creatively, connecting their thoughts and emotions with their actions. This is also where a child is introduced to the concept of problem solving, usually in response to a situation that the adult creates which the child may wish to try and change.
Fantasy play is extremely important in a child’s development of cognitive flexibility and creativity. By encouraging our little ones to use their imagination through activities such as acting out stories or creating make-believe scenarios, we are effectively allowing them to explore the world of multiple perspectives and their own playful manipulation of ideas and emotions. The benefits of this are wide ranging and include an increase in advanced language skills (such as use of subjunctives, tenses and adjectives at an advanced level), an understanding of symbolism at an age appropriate level and an increased ability to express both positive and negative emotions.
If you are looking for ideas on ways to introduce these kinds of activities into your little one’s daily routine, here are a great selection of games and activities. I will be adding extra activity ideas as I find good ones, so check back in regularly.