The many forms of play enrich a child's brain, body, and life in important ways.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clinical report explains how and why playing with both parents and peers is key to building thriving brains, bodies, and social bonds―all important in today's world. Research shows play can improve children's abilities to plan, organize, get along with others, and regulate emotions. In addition, play helps with language, math and social skills, and even helps children cope with stress. Therefore, pediatricians advise parents to look for quality child care or preschool programs that include playful approaches to learning.
In addition to boosting a child's health and development, play helps to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience. The mutual joy and one-on-one interaction that happens during play can manage the body's stress response, according to the AAP. In one study, 3- to 4-year-old children, anxious about entering preschool, were two times more likely to feel less stressed when allowed to play for 15 minutes, compared to classmates who listened to a story.
Here is a mix of playing types that benefit children in many ways:
1- Toys and Object Play
When playing with an object such as a toy, babies are using their sensory-motor skills to explore its properties and conduct "experiments" like a tiny scientist might. To learn if an object is solid, for example, they might bang it on the floor. Preschool-age children also use objects to develop abstract thought and concepts like symbolism, using a banana as a telephone, for example, along with sharing and taking turns.
2- Physical Play
Physical fun such as free play during recess helps develop children's motor skills, prevent childhood obesity and build emotional intelligence. The gentle thrill of a playground slide, for example, lets a child build confidence as they take risks in a relatively safe environment. Games such as duck-duck-goose and tag also help children build other socio-emotional skills such as empathy as children learn to be careful not to hurt others by tapping someone too hard, for example.
3- Outdoor Play
Outdoor play is particularly important because it lets children use all their senses to build skills like spatial awareness and balance. It can also improve a child's attention span. Studies suggest that young children in countries where schools allow more time for break see more academic success as children get older.
4- Pretend Play
This type of play lets young children experiment with different social roles and learn to cooperate. Dress up, make believe, and imaginary play also encourage creativity and builds more complex negotiation, communication and language skills. ("You be the teacher, and I will be the student," a child might say.)
Giving your child plenty of opportunities to play is one of the best ways to help them grow into curious, creative, healthy, and happy adults equipped with the skills they need today. Next time your child asks to play with you, jump at the opportunity! Share the joy of discovery as you connect with each other and the world around you.