Play was defined by the emerging playwork profession as behaviour which is ‘freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated’. Play is a spontaneous and active process in which thinking, feeling and doing can flourish; when we play we are freed to be inventive and creative. In play, everything is possible with reality often disregarded and imagination and free-flow thinking taking precedence.
Why is PLAY important?
Playing is central to children’s physical, mental, social and emotional health and wellbeing. Through play, children develop resilience and flexibility, contributing to physical and emotional wellbeing.
Internationally, the importance of play is also recognised and enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 31 of the UNCRC states that the child has the right to play and to join in other recreational activities.
As an indication of the significance the United Nations places on children’s play it has published a General Comment on Article 31.In the General Comment the UN states: ‘Play and recreation are essential to the health and well-being of children and promote the development of creativity, imagination, self-confidence, self-efficacy, as well as physical, social, cognitive and emotional strength and skills. They contribute to all aspects of learning; they are a form of participation in everyday life and are of intrinsic value to the child, purely in terms of the enjoyment and pleasure they afford … Play and recreation facilitate children’s capacities to negotiate, regain emotional balance, resolve conflicts and make decisions. Through their involvement in play and recreation, children learn by doing; they explore and experience the world around them; experiment with new ideas, roles and experiences and in so doing, learn to understand and construct their social position within the world.’
Benefits of PLAY
Play contributes to children’s fine and gross motor development and body awareness as they actively use their bodies. Learning to use a writing tool, such as a marker, is an example of fine motor development through play. The natural progression in small motor development is from scribbles to shapes and forms to representational pictures. Playing with writing tools helps children refine their fine motor skills. Gross motor development, such as hopping and skipping, develops in a similar fashion. When children first learn to hop, they practice hopping on different feet or just for the pure joy of hopping. As elementary children, they integrate their hopping skill into many games, such as hopscotch and jump rope games. Using their bodies during play also enables them to feel physically confident, secure, and self-assured (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002).
Research published in the Early Childhood Education Journal in 2007 revealed that both free play and adult-guided play can help preschoolers learn awareness of other people’s feelings. Playing also teaches kids to regulate their own emotions, a skill that serves them well as they move through life.
“You get to try things out with no consequences,” said Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, a child development psychologist at Temple University, who researches the benefits of play. “[Play] also allows you to wear different hats, to master social rules. That’s huge.”
During play, children also increase their social competence and emotional maturity. Smilansky and Shefatya (1990) contend that school success largely depends on children’s ability to interact positively with their peers and adults. Play is vital to children’s social development. It enables children to do the following:
Practice both verbal and nonverbal communication skills by negotiating roles, trying to gain access to ongoing play, and appreciating the feelings of others (Spodek & Saracho, 1998).
Respond to their peers’ feelings while waiting for their turn and sharing materials and experiences (Sapon-Shevin, Dobbelgere, Carrigan, Goodman, & Mastin, 1998; Wheeler, 2004).
Experiment with roles of the people in their home, school, and community by coming into contact with the needs and wishes of others (Creasey, Jarvis, & Berk, 1998; Wheeler, 2004).
Experience others’ points of view by working through conflicts about space, materials, or rules positively (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990; Spodek & Saracho, 1998).
According to a 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics, kids behave better in the classroom when they have the chance to blow off steam on the playground during the day. Researchers compared teacher ratings of 8- and 9-year-olds’ behavior in schools with and without recess periods. The kids who had more than 15 minutes a day of breaks behaved better during academic time. Unfortunately, 30 percent of the more than 10,000 children in the study had no recess or less than 15 minutes of recess each day.