The Importance of Play in Childhood Development

2020 has presented families with so many challenges. Parents are expected to work from home while taking care of their children, among other stressors. Early in the pandemic, daycares, activities, and playgrounds all shut down. Unfortunately, these events led to many children entertaining themselves with more screen time.

Let’s focus on the most important activity in their life: PLAY! Helping your child reach their full potential doesn’t require any fancy gadgets.

Types of Play

• Unstructured Play
Open-ended play with no specific learning goal has many benefits. It helps kids find their own outlets for creativity and physical energy. Unstructured play also fosters social and emotional growth.

• Traditional Toys
Research shows that traditional toys, like wooden blocks, increase language acquisition over electronic toys. Social development relies on facial expressions, gestures, speech, and tone of voice. Playing with toys like blocks and puzzles can also support fine motor skills. And problem-solving with traditional toys can promote spatial and early mathematics skills.

• Pretend Play
Pretending with toy characters and their related accessories encourages kids to tell stories. They use words to imitate, describe, and cope with actual circumstances and feelings. This kind of imaginative play promotes language development and symbolic thinking.

• Interactive Play: Building Connections
Playing with caregivers and peers is key to building thriving brains, bodies, and social bonds. Play supports the formation of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with caregivers. When parents join in child-driven play, they can view the world through their child’s eyes.

Less verbal children may be better able to express themselves and their frustrations through play. Distraction-free, relaxed play assures children that they have their parent’s full attention, leading to a stronger interpersonal connection.

Play also helps forge connections between children. Through play, children learn sharing, negotiation and how to resolve conflict.

• Physical Play
Physical play enhances children’s health by promoting active, healthy bodies. Medical studies show that physical activity decreases stress, fatigue, injury, and depression. It can also increase range of motion, agility, coordination, balance, and flexibility.

Healthy Minds

Playing enhances brain structure and promotes executive function, the set of mental skills that help children get things done. Play can help children plan, organize, get along with others, and regulate emotions.

In short, playtime is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being of children, beginning in early childhood.

Pediatrics Northwest