Play is as important in a child's development as good food and a warm home.
Play is how children come to understand the world. When children are born, their brains aren’t fully developed. Play is a big part of the process of building their brains. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.
And, as we discussed in Play: It’s All About Fun, it’s important that we adults sometimes set aside distractions, join in the process and enjoy.
It’s also important that we encourage child-led play, where the child follows their own urges. Children need open-ended, unscheduled times to explore and discover. This doesn’t mean expensive toys and flash gadgets – it might be the pot cupboard or the recycling bin. It does mean allowing children to make their own choices, thereby developing their decision-making skills, and allowing them to move at their own pace and discover their own areas of interest.
There are six stages of child-led play.
- Unoccupied Play: Where children just observe without playing themselves.
- Solitary Play: Where children play by themselves.
- Onlooker Play: Where children watch others play but do not join in.
- Parallel Play: Where children play side by side but don't interact. They may watch each other and do the same things.
- Associative Play: Where children are playing together but not in an organised way. They are interacting but don't appear to have a goal.
- Cooperative Play: Where children play together in an organised, coordinated way. They may take on roles or each child may have a job.
Children will go back and forth between the stages, but as they get older, it’s more likely they will engage in associative or cooperative play.
A child’s brain-development-work is done through their play. Play provides the brain with building blocks. In this formative time of their lives, children gather information about the world, master the use of their bodies, learn social skills and pick up every little detail to do with fitting into the culture that surrounds them.
Self-led play is an important part of this process.
And, it’s one area where your child is the expert.