Play is a child’s work. It is what they need to do to explore their environment, to understand their own bodies and to experiment with ideas and objects. It is how they learn about themselves and their world.
When children play they experience now ways to solve problems and learn new skills needed to become a healthy adult.
Research suggests that children to engage in 15 minutes of play at recess are better behaved in the classroom and are more likely to learn than children who do not have recess. (Barros, Silver and Stein 2009.
Play does not come easily for all children. Some children have a physical, psychological or cognitive issue which limits their play in some areas. This is where occupational therapy can help.
How You Can Help Your Child to Play
During their first few months, babies enjoy colourful mobiles, rattle and other toys. They also enjoy vocal play such as singing and nursery rhymes or just talking. They may show their enjoyment by moving their arms and legs. Encourage you baby to participate in vocal play and engage with toys. You can encourage you baby to play in different positions, lying on their back, side or tummy.
Tummy time is generally encouraged to assist with child development. Some babies don’t enjoy playing on their tummies. You can help them by singing and presenting toys. If that doesn’t work, you can use an incline, even placing the baby on your chest, to encourage them in this position.
As babies learn to grasp and move on their own, they enjoy playing with mirrors, balls, squeezy toys, water toys, blocks and many things you don’t want them to play with. They may become attached to your car keys, your mobile phone or simply enjoy rummaging through handbags.
Avoid placing your child in an unsupported sitting position before they are ready. Babies can be placed in sitting and maintain the position for a few minutes before they are really ready to sit and there is no benefit in doing that. The important thing is that they can move in and out of sitting by themselves. They may not develop this skill until they are 6 months or older.
Safety is an issue when babies start to move around. Consider his or her environment and remove or control any dangers that may be present. Restraining a child prevents their play and removes opportunities to learn so try to remove risks rather than restrain the child.
Babies are still learning about their bodies and their preferred method of discovery is their mouth. Make sure that any toys they use, not to mention anything they could find to play with, is safe. Small items such as parts of a complex toy can easily become a choking hazard.
Toddlers learn fine motor skills by playing with toys and other items around the house. They love finger painting, play dough and construction toys such as Lego or Duplo. These toys help them to develop fine motor co-ordination.
As children learn to walk and run, they enjoy push toys, pull toys and games such as hide and seek, or climbing around in the playground.
Imitation and pretend play increases during the pre-school years. Children may use dress ups, puppets, dolls or toy cars. Children can sometimes be observed using sticks in imaginative play. At this time they improve all their previous skills. They become better at climbing playground equipment, better at puzzles, better at construction and better at drawing etc.
School Aged Children
Once at school play becomes an important way to get rid of some excess energy so that concentrating in class is easier. Friendships develop as children play and learn together.
Play can become more structured and can include team sports and organised games.
Play is always more fun with someone else and Mum or Dad are the most fun to play with.
You can encourage your child to play by:
- Engaging in play with your child,
- Have craft materials ready so the child can participate when he or she wants to,
- Provide both structured and unstructured play, for example, joining a soccer team and playing in the garden with neighbours.
- Just like recess, active play after school can help prepare you child for learning.
Don’t forget, play is fun. If it looses the fun factor, it is no longer play!