I heard a mom say “I constantly teaching my kids something useful, so they can be smart and learn as much as they can. “…. How sad, I thought.
I’m realizing that there are a lot of benefits in just playing. That’s what brings out their creativity, their imagination and their problem solving techniques, that’s what makes them unique. I found a few notable benefits to play:
“Play is the business of childhood, allowing your child free rein to experiment with the world around him and the emotional world inside him”, says Linda Acredolo, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis.
Imaginative play gives your child a sense of control as he interprets the dramas of everyday life and practices the rules of social behavior.
As toddlers, children play side by side without obvious communication (this is called parallel play). During the preschool years, they start to interact with each other by creating complex story lines together. As they do this, they learn to negotiate, cooperate, and share (though some kids don’t master the art of sharing until they’re 4 to 6 years old). When children disagree about who gets to be the daddy or who will wear the purple dress, they’re actually developing important social skills, says Sara Wilford, director of the Early Childhood Program at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.
Different types of physical play help develop different skills: Skipping takes balance, for example; climbing monkey bars builds strength; and sports activities involve coordination. Large motor skills, such as running, throwing, and pedaling, improve first, but fine motor skills aren’t far behind. A 3-year-old carefully stacking blocks into towers is not only learning about gravity and balance but also developing hand-eye coordination. And the dexterity your child develops during play carries over into everyday life: After some practice, a 3-year-old will be able to help dress and feed himself, which gives him a sense of independence.
There’s a nonphysical benefit of physical play too: It helps kids work through stress and crankiness. In fact, without adequate time for active play, your child may become grumpy or tense.
Long before children can express their feelings in words, they express them through physical play, storytelling, art, and other activities. When children have experiences that are hurtful or hard to understand, they review those experiences again and again through play. For example, says Wipfler, if your child is pushed or has something snatched away from him at school, he may not understand what just happened. If, the next day, you’re playing with him and he aggressively pushes you, he may be trying to work out what he experienced the day before.
The attention you show your child when you play together is key to building his self-esteem, says Wilford. For example, when you pretend along with him, you are showing him that you accept his make-believe world, that something he’s interested in is fun and important to you, too.