Anyone who’s spent any time watching kids play can see that they’re learning. Formal schooling is important for children, but a vast amount of what kids learn about the world, each other and themselves comes from playing, whether it’s role play, tabletop games or sports. Of course, that’s easy to understand in theory, but what practical benefits to children get from play?
Well, here are just a few of them.
Farm yard noises, aeroplane noises, roaring like a dinosaur, saying “EXTERMINATE!” like a Dalek. These are all chances for children to try out new sounds, test new words, and learn-through-doing how language works, as well as stretching their storytelling muscles. That carries through directly into their writing ability and reading comprehension.
When children play they’re learning about their own bodies. Whether it’s shaking a rattle or playing peek-a-boo as a baby, to making themselves look big when they’re pretending to be a monster, or freezing on the spot during a game of musical statues. Playing gives children a chance to experiment with the ways they can interact with the world around them.
When you’re a child you spend most of your time having your life structured for you. Whether it’s meal times, bath times or (worst of all) nap times, for children life is neatly ordered into chunks by grownups. Play time is a great time for them to make their own rules and decisions, and allows them to exercise their imaginations. Yes, dumper trucks may be for rolling along the ground, but there’s no reason why you can’t suddenly decide they can fly as well!
Interacting with others
While games like hide and seek and tag are relatively straight forward, when it comes to the rules of Mega Robot Superhero Princess War, a game that your six year-old and two of her friends just invented, the rule negotiations can take as long or longer than the actual game itself. During these discussions the children will be learning about sharing, compromise, and ever so occasionally, how to boss people around so they will do as they’re told. These skills are all going to come in extremely useful later.
Interacting with grown-ups
This is educational for adults as well as children. Play time is an opportunity for adults to interact with children in ways that are more complex than simply telling them what to do. As you play with a child you learn when to intervene, when to leave them to it, and when to let them take the lead.
This can also teach you valuable things about the individual child. As you play you’ll learn their body language, facial expressions and tones of voice. In many ways it lets you temporarily enjoy a level playing field with the child, and there’s a lot that you can learn from that.
This is first and foremost the most important thing about play, and it’s easy to forget while listing all the constructive purposes play has. Simply being able to enjoy yourself is a really important skill, and one too many of us forget as we get older. You should take advantage of every opportunity you get for it.