Play is one of the most important roles a child has. Play teaches children social skills, coping skills, creativity, cognition, fine and gross motor skills. It is through play that children learn how to interact with their environment. These skills are essential for further growth and development as the child ages. Let’s take a look at some different types of play and their benefits.
I absolutely love watching children create using their imagination. If you sat 10 children down and gave them a pool noodle, a blanket, and a doll and then asked them to create a story with all of those items, all of their stories would be different. If you then asked those same children to come up with a single story together, you would get a completely different outcome. Having your child create stories and find different uses for items promotes a higher level of cognition. Take some of your toys and ask them to make up stories to promote this advanced skill.
Every day we use this skill to some extent. We identify the problem (big or small), come up with solutions, run through the solutions in your head then pick the best resolution. During play, children might have issues such as turn-taking, poor frustration (if they are losing), or even language/communication barriers. Teaching problem-solving skills through role-playing or storytelling allow children to better understand what they should be doing. These skills are so important and carry into their adulthood.
Every day we have mini-steps we all take. As our brain processes the routines, you don’t have to pay attention in great detail. For example, when you first learned to brush your teeth, maybe you had steps, songs, visual cues to assist you. As you learned this routine, you can do it with your eyes closed. You sometimes don’t even remember brushing your teeth. Playing provides the same steps you need to improve your function. Whether it is baseball, tag, or a scavenger hunt, your brain must process the correct steps and motor planning to carry out the physical movement. This has an impact not only on motor planning but language as well.
Having your child play on a swing set, ball games, climbing, or even dancing helps your child’s muscles develop. As a result, your child will be able to improve their coordination for more advanced skills such as dressing and feeding themselves. Children have to learn about their space, their environment, and how the two correlate. When attempting to kick a rolling ball, initially your child will mistake the timing of the ball coming at them and the exact moment they need to kick the ball. Through practice and repetition, they learn the exact timing of when they need to lift their leg, use the correct amount of force and kick the ball. Then what to do after they kick the ball. They use various muscles to achieve these steps.
This is something you need to teach early on. As a therapist, I always joke that I am a professional loser. I have to lose constantly on a daily basis to promote the child I am working withs self-esteem. Children will come out of their comfort zones and try things from different foods or rides at an amusement park. Playing allows your child to improve their self-esteem and confidence. When a child sees they are able to be successful, they are filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment.
Sarah Appleman MS, OTR/L is the author of “Play With Your Food” and is a specialist in her field.