Play is the activity that not only is at the core of how young children develop and learn, it also is the major way that parents build relationships with their children. However, it is not always acknowledged for its crucial place in a child’s development. According to the United Nations High Commission, “play is so important to optimal child develop that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.” The first section of this two-part article on play will discuss the benefits of play. They can be grouped into three main areas:

1. Physical development. Since play activities often involve physical movement, play great builds fine and gross motor skills in children. It also can be the beginning of children’s involvement in sports and athletics. When children engage in physical endeavors they at the same time are growing their brains. In addition, children learn through play activities important self-help skills such as dressing themselves and looking after their things which help them be ready for Kindergarten.

2. Cognitive skills. A variety of cognitive skills are gained through play such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, mastering new concepts such as early literacy, story-telling and communication skills and increasing the ability to attend to things. Through child-care centers and homes where children play with ever changing play materials, they get exposed to rich vocabulary and get to try on different roles such as being a baker, hairdresser, or teacher for example. Play is “the gateway to metaphor, to scientific insight and to invention” and “the roots of creativity also lie at this junction of concrete and symbolic experience where pretend play arises” according to Jane Healey, Ph.D in Your Child’s Growing Mind.

3. Social and Emotional Skills. Play experiences not only allows parents and care-givers to spend enjoyable time together, it affords children the opportunity to learn how to share, take turns, gain empathy and the perspective of others, increase persistence, control aggressive behavior, resolve conflicts, and build self-esteem. According to Dr. Alison Gopnik, “when children engage in pretend play, have imaginary friends, or explore alternative worlds, they are learning what people are like, how people think, and the kinds of things people can do. This helps children learn to understand themselves and other people. “

It is necessary that parents understand the importance of play so saying “just playing” is less commonplace and play is valued for what it provides our young. (See the “Just Playing” poem for an inspiring commentary on the benefits of play). How wonderful that an activity that is so fun for children at the same time benefits their cognitive, physical and social-emotional well-being. Please read next time about how to play with children and great toy ideas.