The importance of play

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/20/2019 6:01:57 AM IST

 Dr. Stuart Brown, while studying the lives of people who had committed murders, came across a very interesting find. His research revealed a common theme - the absence of play. Dr Brown's research indicated that being deprived of play had serious long term consequences. 

Multiple studies exploring the importance of play has found that play is a very important part of the developmental process. Physical play is the earliest kind of play to develop and includes activity (jumping, climbing, dancing, ball play), fine motor practice (sewing, colouring, cutting) and rough and tumble play (fighting with peers and siblings). Children who engage in physical play are seen to be more healthy and show good academic performance and greater emotional regulation. 

Another kind of play that children often engage in is "playing with objects." Observed in primates, this kind of play is characterized by the child's exploration of the world around him as also the objects that are found. Initially, this play may manifest as biting an object or rotating an object and gradually the child begins to sort through objects and categorize them. Playing with objects has been associated with development of problem solving abilities and reasoning abilities. Some evidence also suggests that playing with objects has a positive impact on the development of spatial, language and math abilities. 

Symbolic play is observed in humans alone and begins from around the age of 12 months. In this play, the child deliberately uses sounds to convey meaning. Progressively, the child begins to master different symbolic systems such as spoken language, numbers, making markings/writing, music and so on. Studies reveal a significant impact of this kind of play on language development. 

Pretend play involves children using objects/actions/ideas to represent other objects/actions/ideas with the help of their imagination. For example, using a stick as a sword. Pretend play has been associated with the development of reasoning skills, social awareness, awareness of other's minds, language and emotional regulation. 

Games with rules is also a type of play that children begin to engage in when they start making sense of the world around them. Children begin to play games such as hide and seek and throw and catch, abiding by the rules of the game. In doing so, they are able to structure the environment around them and also gain a sense of control over the activities they engage in. Most of the studies done has shown that games help in the acquisition of knowledge in a specific domain such as math and science. 

Understanding the importance of play has huge implications for parents, teachers and other stake holders. Children learn the rules of social contact and self regulation via the medium of play. Turn taking, understanding the other person's perspective, problem solving abilities all develop out of play. 

Over the past few decades, the number of hours children spend playing has drastically reduced with other activities such as watching television, studying and playing video games taking priority. Parents should ensure that children have at least one hour of unstructured play daily. Encourage children to engage in interactive play while reducing screen time.  

Parvathy Nair

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