Do you let your children explore free play on a regular basis? Here are two important reasons that you should encourage and enable play for kids.
The word Play is associated with an activity where the process is central. If the outcome or objective becomes important, then we as adults tend to term it as “work”. But there are hidden benefits of play time that we tend to overlook, dismissing it as a ‘waste of time.’
So if we are cleaning the house with an objective, that is “to ensure the house is clean”, it becomes work. When a child cleans the house, sweeping vigorously with a broom, she/ he is doing it because it is an enjoyable task. They repeat the task with enjoyment going over and over it till they are tired; not really when the house is clean.
So the same activity now becomes “play”. For a child there is hardly any differentiation between work and play because the child is always focused on the process.
Play contributes to a huge sense of self-satisfaction and mental peace, which brings in a tremendous amount of socio-emotional development. Let us look at this in a little more depth.
Two Important Benefits of Play Time for Children
1. Emotional Development
What is emotional regulation?
Emotion regulation is the ability of a child to control his emotions and reactions to his environment. Children are said to be emotionally well developed when they learn to recognize their own emotions and learn to control their reactions. How does play help with this?
When a child engages with a complex toy or a complex situation that challenges her/him, it makes them think, and this is the way the mind develops. When the mind starts developing, children begin to recognize emotions of happiness, sadness, anger and fear.
Then emotions get more complex and children begin to feel shame, pride, sympathy, shyness and more. The wider the range of emotions, the more “mature” a child gets and the ability to control and regulate these emotions becomes better. These aren’t the only benefits of play either.
How play helps with emotional regulation
For instance, in the park, children playing with sand toys are doing what they think is important for the day. It could be accumulating sand in one place, digging it up or throwing it around. Now when another child is trying to snatch the bucket, something happens. The child’s sense of injustice, preservation, self-defense and simply the sense of “belongs to me”, all rise to the occasion.
A child who is older may just communicate to the other child and say- “It is mine right now, so you have to wait for your turn.” Similarly, while playing with a toy that is challenging, a child keeps at it till they have conquered it, enhancing feelings of confidence, joy, pleasure, self-esteem.
As they cope with anxiety and emotional stability before conquering the challenges, they learn to put this down and face up to it. Expressing emotions through play helps children also say what they feel, and in this process recognize their own emotions.
2. Social Development
What is social development?
Children are termed well developed socially, when they behave in a way that relate to others well. They can adapt well and contribute effectively to the world around them.
Play creates situations where children must solve problems. Playing with a challenging toy that enhances cognitive ability makes the child a problem solver.
All of this in turn leads to the child becoming more independent and competent, which enhances the child’s self-esteem. The happier the child, more likely she/ he will adapt to new situations, taking on challenges with a zeal. When the child is in this kind of a happy state, it is likelier that she/he will have the confidence to seek out others and develop more meaningful associations with them.
How play can aid social development
Once the child learns to socialise with other children he starts sharing ideas and toys. Such a play setting leads to acquisition of cooperation and a sense of give and take. To be a part of this competitive world, children need to be socially adjustable such that they are able to face all kinds of situations the future is holding for them.
The level of engagement becomes even better when children are playing with children of different age groups or mixed age playing. The chances of negotiating, leading and problem solving will be more in mixed age groups.
Play enhances communication skills which hold a very special place in social development. This leads to an improvement in their language and vocabulary.
Play is the root and base for a child to learn and develop skills for a better future. It becomes a channel that connects the child with her/ his imagination, parents, friends and surroundings. Emotional and then social development are the two huge positive benefits of play.
Parents, ensure that your children get enough play time. They need it.