The importance of play during early childhood

Play is not just fun, it’s good for children! Adults might view play as a distraction from their jobs, chores and errands. Dictionaries even define play as activities of “leisure” or without “practical purpose.” Anyone who’s seen a group of rowdy 4-year-olds playing knows there’s nothing leisurely about play. But we need to change our perspective of play, especially in regards to the importance of play for childhood development.

Let’s look at some of the ways play can aid a child’s development:

Communication skills
Playing together might be the first substantial interaction young children have with others. By watching, listening to and reacting to others, children are learning about verbal and non-verbal communication. These social interactions deepen a child’s vocabulary and understanding of language and communication as a whole.

Cognitive development
Researchers found that play changes the connections of the neurons in the prefontal cortex. This area of the brain plays a critical role in “regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems.” Navigating social interactions and making decisions helps a child’s brain develop. Yay, brainpower!

Self-regulation
Play is an excellent practice ground for a child to learn how to regulate their own behavior. Through play, children learn how to concentrate on a task, how to cooperate with others and how to manage their emotions.

Building relationships
Parents who get involved with their children’s play are not just supporting their growth, they’re also bonding! Participating your child’s favorite pretend games or passion for race cars helps grow your connection. In addition to playing the Darth Vader to their Luke Skywalker, you can make sure they stay safe (and supervise toy clean-up). Play is also an opportunity for children to create friendships with others. Playdates and recess are great ways for children to create the foundation for friendships.

Whether it’s in a preschool, at a playground or at home, play is critical to children’s growth. Support their love for play by encouraging their passions, participating and helping them live a balanced, fun-filled life.

All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.