Play forms a crucial part of your little one’s development. While it might not seem like obvious learning, play gives your child the tools to understand their environment and how their body works. As well as offering a sense of engagement and enjoyment, play boasts countless benefits for your little one’s cognitive, emotional, social and physical wellbeing.

The benefits of play

From relieving stress to building empathy, play offers multiple benefits for your child. It helps them:

● Nurture their relationships with oneself and others
● Build creativity and collaborative skills
● Build confidence
● Develop language, communication and social skills
● Develop physical skills
● Learn about how to care for others and their environment
● Feel loved, happy and safe

How and what do children learn through play?

Play gives your child different sensory, cognitive and physical experiences, which then build connections in their brain that contribute to their cognitive, emotional, social and physical growth. Through free, unstructured play, your little one practises and reinforces these skills in a way that can’t be achieved through more structured activities like screen time and worksheets.

Play also encourages your child to engage actively in the world around them, which promotes healthy physical habits as they grow. It’s also a natural stress-reliever and an ideal outlet for when your child is feeling nervous or anxious.

Your child will also develop their self-control and decision-making abilities during play, as they learn to test out new ideas and make connections between their choices and the natural consequences of these decisions. Mental flexibility, creativity and mindfulness are just some of the other critical skills children develop when engrossed in play.

How can I encourage rich and productive play?

Free, unstructured play is one of the best forms of play for your child. It’s voluntary and unscheduled, which allows them to use their imagination and move at their own pace. To foster free play, try to use open-ended, hands-on materials like boxes and blocks, or natural elements like sand, dirt, water, sticks and so on. Artistic and musical games, as well as imaginative activities like dress-up, make-believe or building forts with household items, can also help to encourage their creativity.

You can also promote rich and healthy play by joining in the fun! With the presence and participation of a caring adult, a new level of meaningful play occurs. Not only does this allow for quality bonding time, but your child may also use your attention as a collaborative tool to figure out a problem, try something new or challenging, or re-enact an imaginative scene. Whether you follow your little one’s lead or offer gentle guidance, you can help to create a safe, secure and comforting space for them to play and learn.

While it might not seem so, every make-believe situation, dress-up activity and seemingly random re-enactment gives your little one another opportunity to expand their learning and nurture their growth.