When was the last time you got down on the floor with your child and played something with him? Think about it. Play is what children love to do.It makes a difference not only in the behavior of a child but even on intelligence tests and on the amount of money these children will earn as adults.
Play contributes to the physical, social and emotional well-being and even the intellectual growth of children. But play is even beneficial to parents.
While we know that play is beneficial, we have seen a marked decrease in the amount of time spent with children by parents who play with them as well as a decrease in play time in school.
Play is important for a child to have healthy brain development. It is through play that a child interacts with the world around them.
Play even allows a child to practice adult roles and to develop new skills that increase his confidence. Play allows a child to learn how to work in groups, to negotiate and to solve conflicts. It is an opportunity to practice decision-making and even gain self-esteem.
Play is a way a young child learns to use all his senses — touch, taste, smell, hearing and seeing. The child who is digging holes, listening to music, crawling in tight spaces and stacking blocks is learning how his body works as he pushes, pulls, jumps, rolls and stands still. The child is learning how to explore and discover.
Play is a way to help children make friends. Through play, a child learns to share, lead, follow, listen, plan and even imagine.
When parents watch their child play or join in child-driven play, they have a unique opportunity to see the world from their child’s view. When a parent is involved in this play time, the child feels the parent is paying attention to them and it helps to build a strong and lasting relationship between the parent and the child.
In play, children have a chance to express their views, experiences and even frustrations — which allows their parents a chance to gain an understanding of the child’s perspective.
Having a parent play with their child adds a special touch. It is different for a parent to play with a child than to have the child play with a friend or even a sibling. Parents offer more mature and varied play than friends or siblings.
This may widen the imagination in ways other children cannot. Playing with other children can be fun, but nothing beats the joy of playing with one’s parent.
Playing is great with parents even when playing with mommy is different than playing with daddy. Fathers are more physical and mothers are more into instruction and verbal play. Both kinds of play are important for the child’s development.
What is especially good is that parents receive benefit from playing just as the child does. It actually relaxes parents when they play with their child.
So beginning with your baby, talk, read, sing and play. Do what your child wants. When you play with your child you are teaching your child.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.