By Ollwyn Moran, Child Development Expert
In my previous blog I talked about the importance of Play in more general terms of development. In this blog, I delve a little deeper into this topic, looking at what play really is and why child-directed play in particular, matters so much.
The formal definition of ‘Play’ is any spontaneous or organised activity that provides enjoyment, entertainment, amusement, or diversion. Put simply, it is a time when we are:
- Having fun
- Being creative and spontaneous
- Creating original ideas and acting on them
- Engaged and concentrating on an activity
Of course, as your little one gets older their play style will change dramatically. I will explore this in more detail in my next blog, so keep an eye out for it on the Clever Tots Toy Club website.
Play allows our children to use their creativity and indeed fosters it, while developing their imagination, their dexterity, their physical cognitive and emotional strength. It is through play that children from a young age can engage with and interact with the world around them. They are allowed to create, explore, and master their world safely.
Often a fear that a little one may have had can be conquered when practicing adult roles during imaginative play, or sometimes when playing with other children, their parents, or other caregivers.
As they master their world around them, play helps children to develop new skills and abilities that lead to an enhanced self-esteem, self-confidence and fosters their resilience. These traits are incredibly important for children to develop as future life skills, especially when they face challenges.
When your little one is allowed to engage in undirected play, they build the skills of teamwork, learning to play and collaborate with others in groups. Sharing is another skill that has to be learned by children. This is not something that comes naturally to children, instead it actually needs careful fostering and nurturing through safe experiences that occur primarily through play.
When your child is learning how to share, they will also be plunged into figuring out how to resolve conflicts too. This in-turn creates another learning opportunity, where they learn to deal with their feelings of frustration, anger, and disappointment to name but a few. Play is a safe environment for these skills to be developed through age-appropriate experiences. It also facilitates the development of the very important skill of self-advocacy, where children find their voice and learn to stand up for themselves.
When play is allowed to be child-driven, children practice decision making skills, they move at their own pace, they discover their own areas of interest and immerse themselves fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
As a child development expert, I am not suggesting that there should be no adult involvement in play. In fact, in an ideal world adults would be involved in much of a child’s play activities, just not controlling it. Research shows that when adults direct or control a child’s play, the child tends to defer to the adult rules and parameters set out during the play time and actually loses many of the benefits that play offers. In this scenario, children lose the chance to develop their own creativity, leadership, independent thinking, and group skills.
Importantly, it has been shown that when parents or a child’s caregivers observe or join in child-directed play, they obtain a unique opportunity to see the world from their child’s perspective. Not only does this give parents the ability to communicate more effectively with their child, but this insight also offers parents the chance to offer gentle and nurturing guidance.
Play is cognitive, emotional, creative, social and it is physical. The physical benefits of active play helps to build healthy bodies, providing varied opportunities for many different sensory inputs and development opportunities, while also supporting healthy sleep.
Many of my esteemed colleagues in child development, Magda Gerber, Emmi Pikler, and more recently Alison Gopniks, have all identified that infants are born with phenomenal learning abilities. They thrive when allowed uninterrupted self-directed play, even from a young age, with the proper supervision of course. This early foundation for their development through play can start from as early as 3-months.
Exploring age-appropriate developmental toys and fostering an environment for creative play is key for your little one to develop into an independent, confident, self-thinker. Each month that you receive your Clever Tots Toy Club monthly membership box of specially chosen toys for your child’s age and stage, try to let your child experience the excitement before you.
Read the ‘Ways to Play’ guide for their age group and consider how you might integrate some of the skills they are ready to reach for into the play with each toy. Each Clever Tots toy has been selected for its child development potential. So try and show how a toy can be played with, rather than directing your child’s play. Stand back and observe as their imagination kicks into gear, and they explore their new toys and how they fit in the world around them.
Remember, child-directed play builds resilience and self-esteem, it encourages problem-solving and teamwork. Afterall, what parent wouldn’t want a child who developed a curious mind, was attentive, enjoyed exploring, worked cooperatively, was secure in themselves, self-aware and resourceful. Play is the work of children. Screens inhibit play.