The value of play for children is neatly summed up by Tina Bruce, a leading figure in Early Childhood Education: “It is becoming increasingly clear through research on the brain, as well as in other areas of study, that childhood needs play. Play acts as a forward feed mechanism into courageous, creative, rigorous thinking in adulthood.”
While buying toys or games for our little one is important, nothing beats getting down and playing with them. Play allows your little one to learn how to interact socially, to figure out how to solve problems, to imagine, to explore and to work out what is safe and what isn’t. Put simply, children learn through play.
This is the most valuable type of play for your little one. This kind of play happens based on what captures your child’s interest at that particular moment in time. Free play is never planned. The key benefit is that it lets bub use their imagination and work through the activity at their preferred pace.
This is very different to free play. This kind of play is organised. It tends to happen at a fixed time or place. It is often led by a grown-up.
When your little one plays, they are working out strategies to be able to do new things. Whether it is stacking blocks on top of each other or learning to walk, play allows them to learn in a safe environment.
By playing with various objects your little one will discover what interests them most. For one child it could be outdoor play in a sandpit, for another it could be banging on saucepan lids. Each one has their merits and you can help them develop skills or their interests, whether it is counting or awareness of sound.
Play not only extends their imagination and creative talents, it lets them learn about the real world around them as well. For instance, they can learn about colours just by playing outside. “The sky is blue, but leaves and grass are green.” They can see Mother Nature in action in simple and engaging ways. Play provides a great framework for them to learn about their environment.
Whether they are looking through albums of family members, playing musical instruments, or engaging in doing finger painting with yoghurt, your bub is learning. They are developing their fine and gross motor skills as well as encouraging their thinking skills.
Remember that play time with your little one needs to be flexible. Your bub will not understand the notion of “taking turns” or sharing, so the kinds of play you engage in need to account for this. Be prepared for them to wander off mid-play or to make a big mess with you. Relax and have some wet wipes on stand-by! This is a special period with your little one. You are giving them the skills that will enable them to engage in independent play and social play in later years.
During the early stages of your little one’s life you will probably find yourself playing an active role in your child’s play. You will usually find yourself engaged in setting up and carrying out the activities with bub.
As they grow you will probably find yourself acting as a facilitator, in other words, helping your little one initially and then stepping back to let them play independently. Once they are old enough they will probably engage in independent play with very little involvement from you.