Play is a range of activities done for amusement, refreshment and enjoyment. Apart from being fun, play has emotional, social, physical and cognitive benefits for children.
How does play benefit children?
Social benefits of play
While playing with others, a child listens, notices social cues, learns turn-taking, fair play and empathy. He shares ideas, negotiates and compromises. These help him learn to function well in a group in later years.
While at play, children think, understand, remember, imagine and anticipate. They learn about their bodies and the world. At play, they count, create and classify when they play with building blocks or draw and colour. During dramatic play, they string words together in a sensible manner to tell coherent stories, enriching their vocabulary and writing.
Children develop strong bones, healthy lungs and hearts, muscle strength, coordination and reflexes, through sporting activities and outdoor games. They push their boundaries and learn risk-taking.
Children learn to set and change rules, obey these rules, lead their peers and follow. They learn to manage their anticipations and frustrations while at play. These help them develop grit and resilience.
The best play for your child
The best play for a child depends on his developmental age. The skills and competencies he is learning at any time can be played on to entertain him and help him grow. For infants from birth to 3 months, unoccupied play such as a baby observing his surroundings and wiggling fingers and toes prepares him for future exploration. From about 6 weeks, smiling and cooing games are great. From 3 months to 6 months, laughing games, grabbing games and playing with rattles are fun. A 7-month old baby enjoys mirror games, while a 9 month old will enjoy hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo. Once a baby begins to crawl, games that involve movement of the whole body will be fun. Try a battery powered toy car, for example.
From about 15 months, your child has the dexterity to enjoy building blocks. Toddlers enjoy pretend play. From 18 months, they will call Daddy on the hairbrush, calm a crying teddy when he is hurt and feed their favourite doll. Play gets more complex and imaginative with age. 2 year olds enjoy dolls, stuffed animals, cars, noisemakers and books. 3 year olds will enjoy playing mummy in the kitchen or daddy on the lawn. A toy kitchen set or lawn tools would be great for this age. 4-5 year olds enjoy story-telling whereas school aged children will enjoy co-operative play such as team football, ampe, board games, relay-racing and building puzzles.
Play doesn’t need to happen only with toys. Bath time can easily be turned into play time blowing soap bubbles or sprinkling water. A car ride can be turned into a game of spotting trees, or counting.
How do you make your child derive maximum benefit from play?
For your child, any game that includes you becomes more enjoyable, so make time to play with him. Play is also more enjoyable when your child is happy and rested. Sometimes a game will last only a few minutes. That is perfectly okay, because children have very short attention spans. It is best to let your child choose the game as well as the rules, which sometimes may change on the spur of the moment. Children learn best when they are interested, and the best way to get them interested is to let them lead.
Should you let children artificially win at games or let them lose when they lose?
For children, success begets success. Losing frequently demoralises them. On the flip side, artificial wins do them the disservice of not preparing them for facing the harsh realities of life. It would be good to strike a balance, letting them win sometimes, especially when they put in a lot of effort, and letting them lose occassionally too.
Play is the occupation of children. Playing helps a child to develop totally. Let your child play to grow.