Human children also engage in play activities that mirror the adult world they see around them. Whether it is playing house, playing store, tea time, GI Joe or a
Superhero saving the world, the game reflects an adult world as the child perceives it and ways of behaving in that world.
The pre-school son of a colleague of mine who was our bookkeeper liked to use the leftover scrap paper I had in my office that was printed with calendar grids. He carefully inserted what looked to him like numbers. I asked what he was doing, and he responded, "Payroll!" There was also an implication that I should not interrupt with inane questions when he was trying to concentrate.
If you spend any time around toddlers—on the playground, at home, or even in an airport waiting area—you’ll quickly notice how important playtime is for them. Whether experienced as a game of chase or dress-up, play is the vehicle of choice for learning, and how the young brain processes important information about the world we live in. Through play, young children learn how to get along with others, how to use their bodies, how to problem-solve, and even how to work out emotions, like stress.According to Professor Karen Hutchison of Rowan University, “Play is actually the work of a child in which they are preparing themselves for adult roles and for society at large.”When seen through this lens, active playtime becomes an important part of a child’s early education, rather than just a way to use up spare time. More than a decade of research has shown clear benefits of play to children, especially when children engage in pretend or “make-believe” play from the ages of about two through age six. According to Scientific American, studies have shown an improvement in the depth of language used by children who regularly engage in imaginative play, as well as an improvement in their ability to empathize with other people’s points of view. The same is not true of time spent passively watching TV or other screens.While children often do a good job of playing if left to their own devices, parents and caregivers can help very young children to engage in play that will stimulate their imaginations. Games like peek-a-boo teach young babies about object permanence, and strengthen the bond between children and their caregivers. For toddlers, outdoor games and exploring, as well as imaginative play with puppets and costumes, can be fun and engaging.Regardless of the game being played, playtime is most rewarding when it happens regularly and with people children know and love.
- Interesting series from Urban Institute provides research about the importance of play for young children—and their parents!
- A peek at the science behind playtime, and why it matters, from Love Talk Play.
- Fun, seasonal activities from Zero to Three that parents can use to play with young children.
In The News:
- “The Case for Play”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 20, 2011.
- “The Need for Pretend Play In Child Development”, Scientific American, November 11, 2013.
- “The Importance of Everyday Interactions for Early Brain Development,” The Huffington Post, February 3, 2014.
VideoWatch parents talk about ways they play with their children—from the silly to the artistic! >>