Importance of Play in Child Development
It can be somewhat difficult to define exactly what ‘play’ is. If you look it up in the dictionary you’ll find an array of meanings. The best way to describe play in the context of a child is “Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation” - Oxford Dictionary Online. From an early age play becomes an important aspect of a child’s life. While you may think it’s just a form of childish behaviour, something they’ll grow out of, play is actually a very important part of a child’s development.
Brain Development & Play
Doctor Marion Diamond of Berkeley University, California conducted a study in 1964 to see exactly how play affects brain development. Her study was conducted on rats, not children, but her findings were significant in the research of child development.
To sum up the experiment, she placed a group of rats, from birth to adulthood, in an environment filled with toys. The second group were put in solitary confinement. It was discovered the latter, when examined, had thinner cerebral cortexes compared to those raised in the interactive environment. The rats brought up with toys and play were quicker at finding their way through mazes and learned cause and effect a lot faster.
The same can be said for children. When brought up interacting and playing they develop leaps and bounds. Play impacts the brain by causing the prefrontal cortex to become bigger and faster.
This stage is most common in toddlers. Children of the ages 2-3 tend to play by themselves, separate from other children, if in a social situation, and often seem uninterested and unaware as to what is going on around them. Don’t worry, your child isn’t lonely, they are participating in solitary play. At this young age, a child’s social skills may not be fully developed so they prefer to play alone. This is great for your child as they learn to entertain themselves.
Play is essential in children learning social skills. This type of play is common in the 4-5 year age group. By interacting with others during play, children learn about give and take,reciprocation, and of course sharing. Children also learn to react to different social situations. They become aware of analysing and interpreting information to carry out social activities, all while having fun with their friends!
This is the aspect of play that really ignites a child’s imagination and creative side. They begin to develop their language, push boundaries when it comes to their environment, create beyond their reality, and all in all have a bit of fun with their imagination!
Play on the Curriculum
Play has been deemed important enough to be added to the curriculum in most countries. Here in Ireland, both Aistear - the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, and Síolta - the National Quality Framework from the Department of Education highlight the importance of play in their thinking. From play in the home at a very young age, to play with peers. Both organisations believe play is an essential part in a child’s development. Allowing them to grow socially, find their identity, and develop a sense of community.