Your child begins to explore the world through play and does so in many ways; the benefits of social play differ from the life skills grasped during fantasy play. Play is powerful, and understanding the characteristics of play ensures you encourage these behaviors in your child.
What makes play so important? Proper play helps kids thrive and develop cognitive, social-emotional, and language skills as they begin fostering relationships with those around them. It also provides children with the tools they need to cope with unhealthy levels of stress. As we all experience stress—especially as we grow older—having these tools at a young age and knowing how to use them sets us up for success.
What Are the Characteristics of Play?
There are various types of play. Each has a different purpose, but they all have similar characteristics. Ideally, play is:
Although it may be hard, try to remain relatively hands-off when your kids play. If you're directing it, your children will do what they think you want rather than act freely. This means less exploration and, in some cases, less fun. While kids need some guidelines for safety, play should remain a freeing experience, so if they decide animals can talk, go along with it!
Playing should be fun. Children have an easier time learning when they’re enjoying themselves; this is a freeing experience that allows them to draw meaning to the world around them as they take risks and explore.
Kids don't plan to play, which is part of the reason it is so enjoyable. It's important you allow your child to play with minimal boundaries; if they switch up the story you're creating together, let them.
Play teaches children lessons that will prepare them for the classroom and life; it gives them the necessary tools for coping with stress and allows them to ask questions. Play and learning are interwoven.
Play allows kids to begin fostering relationships both with you and their peers as they start forming friendships. Not only do children develop relationships, but they also begin to understand verbal and non-verbal communication as they fully immerse themselves within their play.
What is the Power of Play?
The power of play lies in the various types that children involve themselves in as they investigate their environment and the concepts and roles of their play. Different activities provide your child with new experiences that allow them to harness skills they'll use throughout life.
Play is Exploratory
Ideal playtime allows your child to explore the world around them. Whether you're outside getting sand between your toes as you play in the sandbox or baking a delicious batch of chocolate chip cookies, your kiddo's brain remains stimulated.
Exploratory play engages at least one of the five senses and begins early in life as babies grasp the world around them. This type of play also allows your child to begin asking questions as they activate their growing mind. The easy ways to encourage explorative play include:
- Using or making play-dough
- Cooking or baking
- Making a song
Exploratory play may get messy, and that's okay as long as your child's learning along the way and having fun! You can clean a mess up, but memories last a lifetime. Play is about communicating and having fun as children begin to gain understanding of the world around them.
Some kids may instead investigate the world by getting outside and moving their bodies, allowing them to understand different movements and how they work. For instance, by learning how to ride a bike, your child can realize new body movements as they pump their legs to pedal.
Play is Functional
As children get a bit older, they begin using their toys with their intended use in mind; they build towers with blocks or small houses with Legos. Functional play is critical and works to develop children’s fine motor skills as they use hand-eye coordination.
Similarly, functional play includes doing arts and crafts. This often requires planning and fine motor skills, especially as kids learn to color between the lines. Different ways to engage in functional play with your child include:
- Pushing a toy car on the floor
- Coloring in a coloring book
- Playing with a dollhouse
Each of these helps enhance motor skills and cognition as children understand the meaning or purpose of an object, which allows them to draw connections.
Play is Social
Social play is crucial to a child's development since it teaches them to share and cooperate with others! As you sing nursery rhymes with your toddler, you improve their understanding of language by interacting with them. Likewise, children engage in social play by:
- Playing tag
- Playing house or school
- Playing a game
Social play teaches a child how to interact with others as they form new bonds. It allows them to freely express their emotions and learn to take turns. As children play with others, they realize how to listen to different opinions and cooperate with others.
Play is Physical
Play also gives your kids a chance to work off their access energy whether they're playing a sport or riding their bike around the block! Physical play also allows a child to understand how their body moves by getting active. For example, they can get active by:
- Riding a bike
- Playing an outdoor game
- Going to the park
Physical play gets your child moving, which is crucial as children should get about 60 minutes of exercise a day. Moreover, physical activity helps lower stress levels and boost overall mood. Finding great outdoor toys is a great way of encouraging your child to play outside! Legacy Toys has a variety of outdoor toys for sale that are sure to keep your child entertained and active.
Play is Creative
Through imagination and creative outlets, children begin discovering who they are and who they aspire to become as they start understanding various roles in life. As children use their creative thinking, they begin experimenting with different things and asking questions. This leads to forming connections about topics as they learn. Some common outlets for creative play include:
- Crafting together
- Creating a play or drama
- Choreographing a dance
Playing creatively also allows kids to use their imagination and mimic those around them as they test out different roles. Whether they're pretending to own a restaurant and serving you plastic food or playing house and mimicking you, your child is experimenting with a new role.
Understanding the characteristics of play allows you to prepare your child for life by safely introducing them to new environments and experiences. During playtime, kids get to explore without boundaries holding them back, allowing them to understand the world better. As you begin searching for ways to get your child engaged, shop at Legacy Toys for various choices. Whether you're getting messy with some fun crafts or experimenting with a chemistry kit, your kids are sure to have a blast!