"Playing is not a waste of time." This is a phrase that I often tell myself as I watch my children play freely and contentedly, and it's a message that I believe in deeply.
Play can be so important in developing social and emotional skills. In fact, many would argue that play may be even more important than academics when it comes to early childhood development. Here's why…
Play is important for brain development
Most people think of play as something that children only do to have fun. But play is actually essential for brain development. When children play, they are using their imaginations and trying new things. They also get to practice existing skills and doing so creates new pathways and strengthens their network of brain connections.
Play also helps children develop their brain’s executive function. This covers our memory and flexible thinking skills, which are essential for problem solving. When children are encouraged to play, they have an opportunity to practice these important skills in a safe and supportive environment—one where competition or the pressure of getting an A do not interfere with learning. In this way, play is what allows children to think about themselves, the world around them, and their place in it.
Play helps children regulate their emotions
One of the great things about play is how it allows children to creatively express and explore their feelings. . When children are engaged in play, they are free to experiment with different emotions and develop their own unique way of expressing themselves. Play also provides an opportunity for children to test out new ideas and behaviors. As children play, they naturally learn how to handle frustration, manage conflict, and solve problems.
Make-believe play, for example, is a great way to help our little ones process their fears. It is a great channel for communicating with a child’s inner world. In this way, play becomes therapeutic and a form of release.
Play also helps children meet their need for connection. Children are hardwired to seek loving relationships, and playing with others allows them to see loving attention and care. When parents or teachers enjoy playing together with a child, it offers great social and emotional benefits for everyone involved.
Play teaches children learn how to interact well with others
Play is undoubtedly essential to children's social development. It helps them learn how to interact with others, respond to various emotions (theirs and others’) and develop important relationships.
Through play, children can explore different roles and figure out how they fit into the world around them. They can also learn how to resolve conflicts and work cooperatively with others. Play is vital for helping children develop the social skills they need to form positive relationships with others. And those skills are not just important in childhood: they lay the foundation for healthy social interactions throughout our lives.
Truly, play may be the most important experience that will help our children develop most of the skills they need to thrive in life.