Parents are constantly interested in how they can promote healthy development in their children, when in fact it’s an awful lot easier than they think. Free time for play in children has been decreasing in recent years, with many parents looking to encourage children towards academia as opposed to play, thinking this is the way to produce the best future adult.
However, free play has many benefits for children from a cognitive, social and emotional perspective. If play were something that we weren’t supposed to do, we just simply wouldn’t have such a fundamental need to do it. Before a time when structured schools existed, we simply didn’t have a need for academia; everything we needed was learnt through play.
As you can imagine, while children play they learn to interact with the world around them in a new way and play-act the roles they will fulfil later in life. They explore creativity and social interactions, both with others and while they are alone, acting out various scenarios from their vantage point and also from the vantage point of others. For example, with small children, they generally only feel primary emotions and are quite egocentric. It’s not until the child becomes older that they realise that others feel emotions too. This wonderful ability is explored and developed through play alone, as no other outlet allows them the safe place to explore other’s perspectives.
Through play, emotions and ideas are expressed freely and in this way children grow confident in expressing themselves, as scenarios and their possible outcomes are examined. If children are playing in groups they can learn to read social cues, something I mimic in my book series, as healthy social development is something that should be fundamental in all children. They learn negotiation skills by putting ideas across to others and if rebuttled by the group, children learn quickly that life carries on.
Traditional toys also carry many benefits, as children use their imaginations more freely. Plush toys carry huge comforting benefits. Oxytocin, a hormone linked with love and calming is released even from hugging a plush and that is not something that any tablet or smartphone can replicate. Character toys expand development in a new way, allowing children to explore imagination through pictures. This has been linked to greater intelligence and increased skill development, as learning to cultivate the pictures made in our minds allows us to use visual imagery as a skill later in life. Play in today’s society is commonly overlooked as a tool for developing children, however, it could very well be our most powerful aid.