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Play and How It Influences Children's Development

by on 15/09/2021 1050

What is play?

Play is the most essential occupation of childhood and it is a natural medium for achieving goals and prompting kids to work towards goals that may seem lofty, unnatural, or hard. Occupational Therapy’s goals are often included in the interventions as the action that comes with play work to achieve the underlying areas needed for play as well as other areas of function. Play can be defined as any spontaneous or organized activity that provides enjoyment, entertainment, amusement or diversion.

There are various types of play that could also vary in terms of difficulty as it could start as easy as ‘peek a boo’ to as complex as cycling a bicycle. It is proven through various studies that play could facilitate positive growth and development of children. Physical health, social and emotional well-being, and positive mental health are promoted through play.

How does play influence development?

As mentioned, a child’s main occupation is to play and play is the main means of learning, development, interacting, and growth. A child uses play to build skills needed for every aspect of their development.

1. Motor development

Play is crucial to the development of children’s gross and fine motor skills. Through play, children practice and perfect control and coordination of large body movements, as well as small movements of hands and fingers. Symbolic play or pretend play for example, shows a unique way to promote motor development in children as they will try to explore their bodies in a different way such as:

  • Learn to use finger and hand manipulation during feeding and cooking activities.

  • Explore their gross motor development such as jumping, balancing and running while pretending on a spaceship.

  • Establish eye hand coordination during knocking on pegboard or playing on xylophone.

  • Improvement of coordination and motor planning during cycling and monkey bar activities.

2. Cognitive development

A wide variety of experts agree that play is essential for a child’s brain development. Studies have shown that free play affects neurological development and determines how neural circuits of the brain are wired. In another words, free play influence child’s confidence, intelligence and ability to articulate. Swinging, running through or climbing activities enable children’s cognitive learning.

  • According to studies, swings help kids learn perceptual processes and body awareness through spaces.

  • Overhead hanging equipment such as monkey bars helps children’s spatial awareness and scientific concepts such as force of gravity.

  • Games in a group play teach kids to plan and make decisions, understand strategy, rules and problem-solving skills.

  • Engaging in games also encourage the ability of the children to focus and lengthen the attention span.

3. Social development

Children’s engagement in play will encourage a child to actively interact with the world around them thus naturally built their knowledge. It is clearly stated in previous studies that the young children will not only receive information passively through the learning process but will also build knowledge through the interaction with the environment. Therefore, the cognitive and social elements are intertwined in the interactions with the environment.

It is beneficial that children being given the opportunity to play freely, for example, letting children choose what to play such as building castles made out of the sand. In that particular situation, children will also tend to role play with different characters such as kings, queens, knights and so on. From there, the child’s social development will take place indirectly and the children will have to try to interact with peers. From not being able to speak clearly, they develop speech to become clearer and they are able to learn new vocabulary as well. This shows that play in children’s learning is crucial to the development of children.

4. Emotional and behavioural development

Play also holds important roles in behaviour and emotional responses. The reason being is that at this stage, children will begin to develop relationships, build trust and establish long-terms bond. It is understood that children will interact with others during play to build up relationships. Therefore, prosocial behaviour such as helping, sharing, donating and cooperating is required during play as it allows children to recognize other people’s emotions and enhance their ability to see perspectives. Establish emotional awareness in children teaches children to be empathetic with others thus helps children to be less egocentrics.

Stages of social play

  1. Unoccupied play - The random movements that infants make with no clear purpose is the beginning of play. This stage allows children to practice manipulating materials, mastering their self-control and learning how the world works.
  2. Solitary play - This type of play occurs when children entertain themselves without any other social involvement. When children engage in solitary play, they are able to explore freely, master new personal skills like new motor or cognitive skills and prepare themselves to play with others.
  3. Onlooker play - Children who sit back and engagingly watch other children playing but do not join in are onlookers. The active part of their play is watching others. Through this stage of play, the children learn about social rules of play and relationships, they explore different ways of playing or using materials and they learn about the world in general.
  4. Parallel play- This occurs when children play next to each other, but not really interacting together. It is wise to think of this stage as a warm up exercise where children work side by side on the same activity, practicing skills and learning new methods to engage together.
  5. Associative play- This type of play signifies a shift in the child. Instead of focus on the play itself, children begin to be more interested in other players. During this stage, the child started to explore skills to engage with other children or adults during an activity or exploration.
  6. Cooperative play- This stage of play started as there are cooperative efforts between players such as group goals or rules of play. It is sometimes hard for young children to share, take turns and negotiate control in these types of play scenarios thus, it is important for the adults to support in engaging in cooperative play.

In conclusion, play holds a crucial role in children's development. Play helps to build coordination and strength as well as creativity and social skills. Emotional well-being and increase of a child’s ability to explore, problem solve, and create are also influenced through play. Thus, it is important for parents to engage their children in play as much as possible.

This article was written by Anis Arsyida binti Abd Rashid, courtesy of SI World. SI World is a special needs centre that provides therapy, such as occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy, to children.

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