Hands up if you’ve ever handed your kids a box of crayons and a colouring book or pointed them towards the toy box so that you could cook dinner, do the dishes, or catch up on your latest Netflix obsession. While this may feel a little neglectful, it is actually good for them. In today’s busy world, you feel like a bad parent for not filling every moment of every day with academics, organised sport, or other adult-led classes and activities. But it is free, unstructured play time that is the most valuable for your little one’s overall, optimal development.
Play helps to build the foundation for your child to thrive in all aspects of their future life. Play is such a critical component for human development that has been identified as a Basic Human Right by the United Nations! Play-based learning is also one of the foundations for the Australian Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), an evidence-based set of principles that guide the curriculum Australian childcare centres.
Here are some of the benefits it offers;
1. Let’s Get Physical
All types of play have physical benefits. Colouring, painting and puzzles help to develop dexterity and fine motor skills. These can be re-applied in in practical ways like learning to feed and dress independently. Playing outside will often involve running, jumping and climbing. These are gross motor skills that will strengthen muscles, help protect from injury and foster a life-long love of exercise.
2. Brain Food
The first five years of a child’s life is critical for neural and cognitive development. Playing sets off the synapses in your child’s brain like the Sydney New Year’s fireworks! New neural pathways are formed as your baby or toddler learns about the world around them through experimentation and investigation. Your little scientist is learning about the properties and features of everyday objects and the implications of their actions through cause and effect. Free play also gives your child total decision-making autonomy, something they crave but rarely get in most other situations.
3. Relationships 101
Humans are social creatures. Positive relationships with others are a strong determinant of our health and happiness. When siblings or friends play together, they are developing life skills that are required for relationships. Skills such as Communication, Negotiation, Sharing, Taking Turns, and Assertiveness.
4. Feeling Emotional
Creative play is a healthy way for your child to express emotions. Playing with dolls, plushies or action figures allows them to re-create real-life scenarios. This can help them come to a better understanding about emerging feelings that they may currently lack the vocabulary to describe. The ability to freely express and to understand one’s own emotions helps to build resiliency for future challenges. The beginning stages of empathy are also developed through play. Through interacting with others, your child will begin to first recognise and then empathise with other children’s feelings. This ability is a key factor in emotional intelligence, a strong predictor of success in adulthood.
With all this said, while free time to play by themselves or with other kids is very beneficial. We cannot undervalue how important it also is for you to spend time playing with them. Playing together with your kids is a great way to bond, build on your trusting relationship, laugh and make memories. But for those rare occasions when you just need to see the next episode, have a look at some of tables and desks, the perfect workspace to get lost in arts and crafts. Or check out these play sets, perfect for pretending!