As They Grow – The Value of Play
It’s been said that play is the work of childhood. (The quote is so prolific, it’s hard to even trace its origins online – Was it Jean Piaget? Maria Montessori? Fred Rogers?) Children throughout time and across cultures engage in play. Play is the primary way that children learn, engage with those around them and come to understand their world.
Play is an enjoyable activity that offers countless ways for children to learn and grow. Through play, children explore the relationship between objects, test hypotheses and foster a sense of curiosity. Play enhances communication skills and language development, from talking about imaginary worlds, labelling and describing objects, practicing back-and-forth conversations and listening to others. Play fosters imagination and encourages abstract thinking. Play encourages physical activity, and time outdoors. Play helps children learn how to navigate social interactions and develop social skills, like turn-taking, negotiating and coping with big feelings that happen when interacting with others, with their own thoughts, feelings and ways of doing things.
Play is also a wonderful way to relieve stress. Children often “play out” new concepts, as well as scary, confusing or upsetting things. Through exploring, repetition and re-enactment, children not only gain a better understanding, and come to feel a greater sense of control and mastery, but also feel a sense of security and overall well-being.
Play is one of the fundamental ways that we connect with one another and measure quality of life (yes, adults play too!). As a Therapist working with young families, I often recommend setting aside 10 minutes a day for child-led play. I can tell when families are playing together regularly, because I see a reduction in power struggles, frustration and stress, and an increase in connection and enjoyment. Yes, play is that beneficial!
While structured, scheduled activities like sports, music lessons and tutoring can provide children with wonderful, enriching and enjoyable experiences, it is important that children continue to have time to “just be kids” and play. “Play is both serious and necessary for children… Our role is to encourage their creative play and show them that we value their ideas, thoughts and feelings”. (https://pbskids.org/learn/lifes-little-lessons/pretend-play/)
To support play in your home:
- Establish “screen-free time” every day. Lead by example!
- Have a variety of “open-ended” play materials, such as animal and people figurines, blocks and other building materials, craft supplies and modelling clay, dress-up clothes and/or puppets.
- Think of play itself as valuable.
- Offer to join your child in play, or just be an avid onlooker. Follow their lead. Make eye contact. Ask open-ended questions. Describe what you see. Practise genuine curiosity. Embrace the child in you and have fun!
Gillian Hubick, MSW, RSW
Child & Family Therapist, Early Years Team
Vanier Children’s Services
For the Middlesex-London Community Early Years Partnership