Why is play so important?

Play is just as important to a child’s well-being as a healthy meal or a warm jacket in winter, even the UN High Commission for Human Rights has made it clear that all children have the right to play.

Here are four reasons why play is so important to child development:

  1. Play helps develop the brain

Child-driven play, also known as unstructured play, allows for children to engage with their environment without direction or instruction by adults. This type of play helps form and strengthen both neural pathways and the prefrontal cortex which are used for thinking, learning and problem solving throughout the child’s life. While playing, a child learns about the world they live in through the creation of their own world where they have complete control. In this world they learn how to interact with others, imitate the adults around them through role play and process their emotions in a safe space.

  • Play influences emotional and behavioural development

Research shows that play can reduce stress and anxiety in children as the child processes and learns to regulate their emotions during play time. A child may vocalise or act out situations that are bothering them which is a valuable opportunity for the caregiver as the observer to engage with the child after play time and offer support or advice.

When children take part in unstructured play together, they learn skills such as how to work in groups, sharing, conflict resolution and how to advocate for themselves. These skills build the confidence and social skills needed in other areas of the child’s life.

  • Play allows opportunity for creativity and physical exercise

While in their own world, a child uses their imagination and can be creative as they wish to be. Both imagination and creativity are skills that have been shown to lead to innovative thinking and good problem-solving skills in adulthood. Children also have a lot of energy and love to engage in physical play. Not only does this bring joy to the child but it helps to build fast reflexes, develop gross and fine motor skills, and improves bone density.

  • Play facilitates social bonds

The first three points are focussed on the importance of child-driven play, but this does not mean that there is no need for parents and caregivers during play time. When a caregiver engages in play with a child, allows them to take the lead and follows directions given by the child, they demonstrate to the child that they care about and respect the world that the child has created and in turn, the child. This type of interaction helps strengthen the bond between caregiver and child.