Importance of Play

During early childhood, children learn best though play. When adults see children playing it may seem like they are just "having fun". However, research strongly suggests that the various types of play (such as pretend, locomotor, physical, social, language, etc) are instrumental to children learning skills and cognitive functions that are the building blocks of higher cognitive development.

When children play they develop social skills, language skills, physical skills, and creativity. Children may play on their own, with other children, and with or without objects. When adults participate in play, this is known as 'guided play', whereas when children engage in self-directed play, this is known as 'free play'.

While guided play does not necessarily qualify as 'child's play', it allows children to spend quality time with adults, to interact during an activity that actively engages children, and allows adults to provide children with explanations and assistance understanding concepts and developing skills related to the topic or activity related to the play. By taking an active interest in children's play, adults can help make children feel valued and important, and can have fun doing so. Plus, the questions and ideas children come up with can really challenge adult minds too!

Researchers believe that 'free play' plays an important role in children's development, but much remains to be understood about the exact way that free play contributes to children's development. During free play, children have the opportunity to guide and direct their own play for extended periods of time. Researchers believe there is a role for 'structured' or 'guided' play, but that it should not be favoured over 'free play'. While the precise effects of free play, structured play, and the various types of play on children's development is not yet thoroughly understood, it is clear that children have a natural desire to play, and take great pleasure from it - reason enough to let children play!

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