Playtime is more than just fun and games for children; in fact, playing is more like their job. It's the way young kids learn and develop new skills for their development, according to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Playtime promotes bonding with caregivers; it also helps kids achieve the intellectual, social and physical growth needed for future success.
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Stages of Play
The playtime activities children engage in vary based on their maturation levels. Infants and very young toddlers start out by simply observing others' playtime activities and also engaging in play on their own. By age 2, kids may start playing alongside others but are still engaged in independent activity. They then progress to playing with the same toys together, yet still remaining focused on their own goals. It is around this time that kids also start working with peers to complete a playtime task. This is known as cooperative play and occurs with children between the ages of 4 to 6, according to North Dakota State University's Dr. Sean Brotherson, a family science specialist.
Playtime fosters kids' cognitive growth in multiple ways. Representation is a common component of playing. It helps support their intellectual skills in both reading and math; both disciplines require understanding that symbols represent sounds and amounts. Imaginative play such as this is also beneficial for comprehension skills; children learn how to weave a logical story. Putting together a puzzle also supports logic and thinking skills.
Playing with others gives children the opportunity to build important social skills. They learn to consider the feelings or views of their peers; they learn cooperation and conflict resolution. Group playtime often provides exposure to peers from other cultural backgrounds. Children learn more about their own emotions, managing their responses to situations and how their actions affect others. Playing with their caregivers is also a key way of bonding, which is vital for their overall growth and development, according to Dr. Brotherson.
A substantial amount of playing involves physical activity, from riding bikes to swinging on the monkey bars at the park. Kids need this type of play to build their physical abilities, particularly their gross motor skills. Gross motor skills involve using the large muscle groups to complete actions. Running, throwing a ball and other physical forms of play help children develop muscle strength and balance. Fine motor control that's needed to perform precise actions is also developed through play. Building with blocks or playing with clay are just a couple of ways to develop these fine skills.
- North Dakota State University; Young Children and the Importance of Play; Sean Brotherson, PhD; August 2009
- Bay Area Early Childhood Funders; Play in the Early Years: Key to School Success; Jean Tepperman; May 2007
- University of Missouri ParentLink: Questions & Answers About Physical Development--Infancy through Preschool
- The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: Make the Most of Playtime