Play is a world of adventure full of discovery. Play is your child’s way of exploring the world. It is their first discovery of sensation, movement, language and their surroundings and is an essential part of a child’s development.
Being able to play freely enables them to learn invaluable skills that will set them up for life, such as:
- Learning about themselves and others;
- Discovering different ways to do things.
When children play they are using their imagination to act out how they are feeling. In some cases they may act out a situation they want to experience, for example pretending to be mum and dad.
Using their imaginations in this way helps them to:
- Explore their feelings as they learn to express themselves and provides the opportunity to let off steam;
- Develop empathy and consideration for others, as they experience being in someone else’s shoes;
- Develop listening skills and verbal communication from social interaction with other children;
- Gain perspective and learn what is real and not real.
Play lays the foundation for reading and writing, and for mathematical and scientific skills. Children learn about colors and shapes through painting and playing matching games. They discover different textures and the significance of objects by exploring things that are rough and smooth and playing with water and sand.
In the hustle and bustle of modern day life and particularly in more urban areas, play often takes a back seat. I was fortunate as a child to be brought up on a farm in the Scottish countryside, where I had plenty of time to play. I went to boarding school where I had to find my own entertainment in my free time, which encouraged me to explore nature. It meant that I had to use my imagination to develop fun things to do in the outdoor environment. I learnt to see the world from a different perspective. It was a valuable experience I will treasure forever!
Of course, a child does not have to be brought up in the countryside to discover a sense of play. We can assist our children by letting them play in whichever neighbourhood we find ourselves. The key to learning through play is being able to work out things for ourselves and being given the chance to do so.
Children today are often discouraged from living their lives in a natural way because we live in a society of fear. We are frightened to let our children out to explore the world around them. Computers and television, which isolate children from their natural world and reduce personal interaction are far too easily used as entertainment. As adults, these children are likely to find it difficult to understand the concept of being free and natural in their approach to work and where they want to go in life. It is important to give them every possible opportunity to play whilst they are children.
To illustrate this point, a personal favorite film of mine is HOOK. The lost boys in the film had great fun using their imaginations and inventing their own fun, from how to defeat the pirates to creating their own food. When the grown up Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams comes along, they show him how to re-discover play, to have fun and not to take life so seriously.
By allowing our children to play we create a future generation of free spirited human beings, who have the instinct to innovate all by themselves.
We never really lose the desire to play, and most of us become adults long before we stop wanting to play as children. In my opinion we often want our children to grow up too quickly and we discourage them from being themselves. How often do we hear comments such as “stop being so childish and grow up”. This is somehow strange when they are children and have a lifetime in which to mature! Adults that are in touch with their inner child tend to retain a childlike gift for spontaneous play and are naturally inquisitive.
Let your children have fun and be themselves for as long as they possibly can, and when you take the time to just sit quietly and observe, it is amazing what you can learn about them.