Play is a child's work
The many hours that infants and children spend in play are by no means wasted. Play may be fun but it is serious business in childhood. During these hours, the child steadily builds up his competence in dealing with his environment. A child who is born into this world is like a special sponge - bursting with an inner desire to absorb, explore and find out more about the environment into which he is born.
Play is a course of exploration and discovery, which occupies the most part of a child's play. It only stops when he is asleep. In essence, PLAY IS A CHILD'S WORK.
Like a working adult who learns to solve problems in the workplace in order to get the work done, the child learns on a small scale through play the skills necessary for being part of his new environment. Play influences the physical, mental, social, psychological, emotional and linguistic development of the child.
As a child crawls, pulls to stand, walks and runs, he experiences movement. This movement will facilitate the development of more complex physical coordination such as being able to use both hands in a particular activity, for instance running. In running, the child is required to coordinate the swinging movements between the hands and legs. From the 3rd month of the child's life, he initiates movement from the shoulder and elbow. However, in these early stages, such movements are limited to inaccurate swiping and hitting. As the child grows, he develops the muscles and strength in the upper and lower limbs and becomes more accurate and purposeful in his movements. When he is older and plays with smaller and more complex toys, he begins to develop the function in the hands.
In imaginative play, a child may pretend to be a nurse, doctor or a fireman. He may also pretend to cook, sew or have a tea party with his friends. Such imaginative play stimulates the thinking of the child. This will, in turn, prepare him for more complex learning situations when he is older.
As children play with one another, they develop an idea of the world around them. They will learn that there are certain rules which have to be adhered to. These rules involve socialization skills such as taking turns at the slide, making friends, the act of giving and taking, sharing or just being friendly. Although the child will seem to be egocentric and always concerned about himself initially, he will learn to develop through the guidance of an adult, preferably the parent.
A child gains confidence and self-esteem when he plays and experiences fun and success in the process. Confidence encourages further exploration and drives the child to experience more challenging activities. Development of confidence will help him better approach challenges as he grows older. The process of dealing with these challenges further develops skills.
Bonding with parents is part of a child's first stage of emotional development. There is no substitute for this stage of development. Parents should be involved as much as possible during play. This will allow the child to experience security in his new environment. With this secure feeling, the child will be more willing to move out to explore the world with the assurance that there is always someone to rely on should things turn unfavourable.
Language is the medium by which we translate meanings, our thoughts, and feelings. Language development starts from day one of birth. Initial attempts at communication are simple and repetitive. As the child develops physically, the language requirements also increase. Children need words and gestures to express ideas and learn to solve problems as they experience new and varied sensations.
Language is a unique and wonderful part of play and distinguishes humans as thinking beings in comparison to animals.
The pre-requisites for language development can be reinforced through play. There are numerous opportunities to encourage the following through play:
- Eye contact
- Listening skills
- Shared Attention
- Learning to take turns
- Social interaction skills
It is useful to label objects when introducing new words to the child as it will increase his vocabulary. The meaning of the words are further reinforced by encouraging the child to handle the object.
Learning other concepts
Play also helps children learn and understand basic concepts such as numbers, colours, and spatial positions (left/right and in/out). Such concept development is a crucial starting point in a child's development as it teaches:
- Interaction between objects - how one object is related to another. For instance, pots and the stove, fork and spoon, a ball and a bat.
- Interaction with materials. For instance, boiling water is hot, ice is cold, a cloth is soft. It helps the child to identify himself with his action and ideas. For instance, if the child does not like the sensation of heat, he may not want to carry the kettle. This gives him greater awareness of what he is capable of doing and teaches him that he can actually do it again.
- Understanding the cause and effect relationship. For instance, "If I touch boiling water, I will get burnt." This is the foundation for problem-solving. By solving problems and experiencing and learning the rules about the nature of things, the child learns to adhere to safety rules.
Play and development
Children have a natural urge to play. Even the poorest and most deprived children delight in play. Play is an essential part of growing up. It helps the child learn and understand the world. Research has shown that children who play are happier children.
Each child is unique. Every child has a little personality of his own. As such, every child will act and play in his own unique way, exploring his individual abilities.
Children need a supportive adult and a safe environment to develop their skills and creativity to the fullest. Parents or other caregivers are the first persons a child will relate to. It is therefore very important to spend time with your child to create a close relationship and provide the stimulation needed for his development. Through play, you will learn to get to know him better. It often forms an alternative to pure verbal communication. As the child grows, other people such as friends, family and teachers will play a key role as well.
Benefits of play
Play will help your child learn about himself and the environment through assimilation and practice of skills. By creating their own world, children can freely try out and master new situations.
For instance, playing with cars, planes and, boats will give your child the opportunity to get to know all the modes of transport. Likewise, by playing out scenes, he will get familiar with traffic rules, accidents, speeding and the wonders of staying afloat in the water or being able to imagine that he can fly just like a bird.
Play also helps children to make sense of the world according to their current level of cognitive functioning. Your child may play out some experiences he had, thus making these situations part of his inner world.
Children also form self-identity through play. They learn to exercise control and develop interpersonal relationships. Cultural expectations and roles can be exercised when playing "family", "hospital" or "school". Play also enables children to express their feelings such as anxieties and fears. This can help the child to come to terms with these feelings and relieve stress.
Types of play
Your child will develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically through a series of sequential stages. Play requirements will then vary according to age and the child's developmental level. Play should advance accordingly as your child moves through these stages.
- Exploratory play is the very first type of play a baby or toddler will engage in. A baby learns about his environment through the senses. It is important that he gets the right stimulus by being provided with appropriate toys like mobiles to look at, musical toys to listen to, and toys to grip, touch and suck. A baby may look at a toy, suck, feel and smell it. In this instance, the baby is developing the use of his senses. A growing baby will grasp for toys and reach out for objects. Toddlers will enjoy playing with moving objects like balls and cars. They will also delight in action/reaction games like pop-up toys, activity centres and, musical screens.
- Constructive play shows the first signs of planning and conscious use of materials and toys. By building towers from blocks, the child gets an idea about sizes and shapes. The first planned pleasure is in knocking the tower over and re-building it again.
- Energetic play. When your baby starts to crawl and walk, he will be more mobile, exploring the area he is in by moving and touching everything. This is the age when you do not have enough eyes to watch your exploring child. It is also at this stage that toddlers make you feel desperate and you think that your child is being naughty. What your child is doing here is learning and exploring his world that's growing bigger and bigger each day and that offers so many new possibilities. The child is also getting to know his growing abilities and thinks he can do everything. Setting the limits is important for him to learn limitations while offering safety in the expanding world, which can sometimes become overwhelming for your child. Toddlers love to exercise their growing motor skills and are very energetic. Going to the playground offers full opportunity for movement and joy.
- Modelling play. It is cute to see how children start to copy the actions of the caregiver and learn the different roles in life. Your child will follow you everywhere and want to do what you are doing. It is good to have a few jars and bowls in a special drawer or cupboard for your child so that he can join in cooking and washing the dishes when you are doing so.
- Pretend play. When imagination develops and children can distinguish the real world from their world of fantasy, pretend play will develop. The chair becomes a car, various chairs in a row become a train and your child pretends to be the driver blowing a whistle when the 'train' leaves. In pretend play, the child learns about different roles and how to make sense of everything that happens around him. He is free to create new situations and learns in free play how to master them.
- Social play. When children go to primary school, friends become more and more important in the daily interaction. It is important for children to belong to some social group, be with their peers and to have a certain role in this group. It is through trial and error that children learn their place in their environment. Attending clubs or other activity groups will help to further develop their skills and enhance their interaction with different peer groups in various contexts. Thus, the child learns about people's uniqueness and social acceptance.
- Skillful play. During the primary school years, your child will further develop accomplished skills through activities that require specific skills such as handicrafts, thinking games and, sports.
Your child will further refine his motor skills, intelligence and, creativity. Specific skills will help him define his personality, strengths and, weakness.
Play in children according to their ages
Play - Birth to 24 months
Play is the way a child learns about the world around him. This section shares how children of different ages play and the typical play activities that develop according to the age level. The first part talks about play and development from birth to 2 years old.
Play in children from birth to 6 months
In the first months, the baby's senses are not fully developed. He can only see things that are about 30 centimetres from his eyes. He enjoys soft sounds and music, your cooing and singing. At about 3 - 6 months, your child can suck his fingers and grasp a toy that has been put in his hand. He is also beginning to reach for toys and pass it back and forth in his own hands. Provide toys that are big, colourful, full of sounds and music and preferably moving, like a rattle. Toys at this stage also need to be safe for chewing.
Play in children from 6 - 12 months
At about 9 months, the baby becomes aware that objects still exist even though he can no longer see them. You can hide his favourite toy under his blanket and he will lift it up and voila, he has found it!
Your child is also becoming increasingly mobile - crawling, pulling to stand and cruise. He is also
becoming more adept with his hands, picking up whatever he finds on the floor and putting it into his mouth.
Balls are a favourite at this stage; he can crawl after them, throw them and watch them drop with a bounce.
From about 9 months, he also enjoys ‘peek-a-boo’ and copies your hand-clapping action. At 12 months, your baby is starting to solve ‘problems’. Play simple shape sorter with him and you will see him trying to fit the shape into the correct hole through trial-and-error. When he is beginning to walk, he will enjoy push toys as he leans on them and takes a few steps forward.
Play in children from 12 - 24 months
He can explore all corners of the house. His hands have also become more coordinated, he can scribble a drawing and start to sort out his toys. He is more experimental in his play - what happens if I drop this bowl? You will see more pretend play in him, such as pretending to drink from empty cup and pushing toy car.
His curiosity self-motivates him to try things repeatedly to gain mastery over it. As he reaches 24 months, he is continually testing his limits and begins to insist on his independence. He will have the infamous temper tantrums as he begins to let you know what he thinks!
At this age, child's play is more active. He is also an imitator of the parent in everyday life. He may like physical games. Provide the child with push and pull toys. Give him large building blocks as his hands are more coordinated and are beginning to stack more effectively. Give him lots of crayons and paper to start scribbling.
Provide your child with a safe area where he can climb, hide, slide and practise all his emerging gross motor skills. Puzzles will be intriguing at this age, as he is more capable of problem-solving and learning from trial and error. Making music with tiny instruments is a thrill as they learn rhythm and tune.
Play - 3 To 5 years
This second part talks about play and development from the age of 3 to 5.
Play in children from 3 - 4 years
The pre-schooler at 3 years is a social being. Hence it is important that they are exposed to group activities.
At this stage, he is also able to run, climb just about over anything, walk up and down stairs one foot at a time without holding onto rails and ride a tricycle.
Hand skills improve tremendously at this stage. The child is able to stack 9- 10 blocks, copy 3 - 4 block designs and fix 8-20 piece medium-sized jigsaw puzzles. He also begins to try colouring within the boundary instead of scribbling random strokes. He is able to trace simple dot to dot designs such as that of a dog. Scissors skills can be introduced as they start to cut strips and gradually progress to lines and curves.
A good mix of gross motor and fine motor activities will suit the child. Playing in the park or playground with the neighbour's children, kicking the ball, chasing each other will allow the child to test and develop his gross motor skills.
Sitting down at the table to trace, colour and try out the new jigsaw puzzle with an adult teaches him at an early stage to have good sit-down behaviour. With this, his creativity, hand skills and problem-solving abilities are given an opportunity to develop as well.
Play in children from 4 - 5 years
They start to take up roles in group play. They also start to understand and follow rules. Games like hopscotch, Snap, hide and seek, snakes and ladders, Let's Pretend are some examples of what they enjoy.
Give your child lots of opportunities to mix with other children. Your little one is on his way to being a very sophisticated social creature. He is already able to read body language, read emotional cues, make decisions on how to act based on the situation he is in and the cues he is picking up.
The ages of 3 - 5 is an exciting and fun time. The primary role of the parent is to be present, give the child lots of opportunities and then let nature do the rest. If your child likes airplanes, then spend time with him folding it and decorating it. It is the process of doing things together and building the relationship that creates a strong bond between you and your child.
Role of parents
Parents are the child's best playmates. Creative children are usually the result of adults who have involved themselves in the child's play. The parent must join in and play at the child's level. Daily playtime is a great way to bond with your child.
It is important for children to play. Adults should guide children and stimulate them by offering time, space and company. It is important to follow the child's interest and introduce new types of play to him in order to help him grow according to the various developmental stages. Play is fun and helps the child develop his abilities in his environment. It is definitely most enjoyable to share play experiences with your child.
Department of Child Development, KK Women's and Children's Hospital