The most important thing a child will do is play! This play can be structured sometimes, but the freedom to make choices is a fantastic activity for children. Children are born with some innate abilities, but they are mostly blank slates. They must be allowed to make connections and learn things on their own. The benefits of play are seemingly endless, but there are a few that stand out.
Problem Solving Skills
How do you learn to solve a problem? You try. This is the best thing you can do for a child. From the infant learning, which shapes go in which hole on the shape sorter to the teenager solving a math problem, problem-solving skills are paramount to developing those skills. Believe it or not, that shape sorter is an early math skill. While he or she may not know the names of shapes, your child will quickly learn that size, shape, direction, and sometimes color changes the properties of an object. You should be there to help your child when he or she is frustrated beyond learning, but you should allow those problem-solving skills to naturally develop, as well.
Learning to play in the kitchen center, with the toolset, or even at After School Care with the stuffed animals, provides children the opportunity to practice social skills. Sometimes he or she will be practicing “taking orders” at a restaurant with the stuffed animals and playing independently. This still helps him or her understand the importance of social cues and norms. While playing with other children, we have the opportunity to teach children the right and wrong way to ask for something or express their frustration. Social interaction through play allows them to explore these appropriate expressions.
Children who are free to play often develop more physical skills. The skill of kicking or throwing a ball is about muscle movement and strength. Children do not learn to do certain activities until those muscles are allowed to develop. Playing with a baby rolling a ball back and forth can strengthen the sitting, leaning, and movement skills, but it can also strengthen the core. Core strength is required for jumping and squatting. Allowing kids to play can put these muscles into motion.
Children learn to regulate their behaviors and improve thinking skills through play. They often explore their environment and creativity through pretend play, and they develop social skills this way as well. Children need some guided play, but they should enjoy some free time to explore as well. Guided play can help you teach them some functions, but the exploratory play will allow them to practice what is being taught.
Children learn to care about others through their social interaction of play. They can explore their feelings, and they can learn to accept others’ feelings. Children are not born merely understanding signs and signals of feelings. Some children are more intuitive than others, but play allows them to hone those skills.
Children will mimic what they see and hear. If your child is playing with a toy vacuum, you may notice that he or she mimics your behaviors and words. You might feel that your child is just doing what you do and that it doesn’t strengthen anything, but mimicry is how they learn. This is how language development began. Think back to the first babbles of your baby. They were trying to make the sounds that you made. Now, your five-year-old is trying out her independence and copying the things mommy does. This mimicry is fantastic for language development. Social interaction also boosts language skills. Children need to talk to others to be better talkers. Communication is crucial to social activity.
One of the best things you will ever do for your child is to facilitate their playtime. You do not have to make the playtime extremely structured, but some structure is excellent. Children need to have the autonomy to try new things. Mistakes can be corrected, but giving children the chance to explore their environment will prepare them for the hard things later. The baby allowed to continue trying the shape sorter until he or she succeeds will be the same kid who continues to try the math problem until he figures it out. Give your child a variety of toys to play with and allow them to be creative. One of the traits of good problem-solvers is that they are creative. Play, especially pretend play, will encourage creativity. Play can include art, science, social interaction, language development, and many more skills.
You will be the most helpful for your children by facilitating and encouraging play. Teaching some skills is best done through play and interaction with other children. Keep the play fun and not overly structured. Children need to know that they can make mistakes and keep trying. You will do great.