Play is an important part of the childhood development. Through play, children learn about shapes, colors, cause and effect, and themselves. Besides cognitive thinking, play helps the child learn social and psychomotor skills. Plays also provide a safe space for children to practice and refine skills necessary for social-emotional development (Fisher, 1992). Children can test out different social skills and different emotion regulation skills and refine those skills on the basis of peer feedback ( Johnson et al., 2005; R. Jordan, 2003) and repetition. It is a way of communicatingjoy, fear, sorrow, and anxiety. Play is not only an imaginative activity of amusement. Play and games serve important roles in cognitive, social, and affective development.
In the early 2000s, children of all ages and from every socioeconomic background often prefer television, computers, and battery-operated toys to self-directed, imaginative, and creative play. This tendency leaves children developmentally deprived, because imaginative and fantasy play allows children to explore their world and express their innermost thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears, likes and dislikes. Through play, decisions are made without penalty or fear of failure. Play allows children to gain control of their thoughts, feelings, actions, and helps them achieve self-confidence.Play with imagination and fantasy is the child’s natural medium of self-expression and one that gives cues about the child’s conscious and unconscious states.
Play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith believes that the human child is born with a huge neuronal over-capacity, which if not used will die. ‘Not only are children developing the neurological foundations that will enable problem solving, language and creativity, they are also learning while they are playing. They are learning how to relate to others, how to calibrate their muscles and bodies and how to think in abstract terms. Through their play children learn how to learn. A child who is not being stimulated, by being played with, and who has few opportunities to explore his or her surroundings, may fail to link up fully those neural connections and pathways which will be needed for later learning.’(Sutton-Smith 1997).
Emotional-behavioural benefits of play
- Play reduces fear, anxiety, stress, irritability
- Creates joy, intimacy, self-esteem and mastery not based on other’s loss of esteem
- Improves emotional flexibility and openness
- Increases calmness, resilience and adaptability and ability to deal with surprise and change
- Play can heal emotional pain.
Social benefits of play
- Increases empathy, compassion, and sharing
- Creates options and choices
- Models relationships based on inclusion rather than exclusion
- Improves nonverbal skills
- Increases attention and attachment
- Positive emotions increase the efficiency of immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems
- Decreases stress, fatigue, injury, and depression
- Increases range of motion, agility, coordination, balance, flexibility, and fine and gross motor exploration
It is abundantly clear that play is of vital importance in children’s health and development, and in becoming responsible citizens.