Sam Flatman,an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Sport and a specialist in the benefits of outdoor play, discusses how play time supports healthy growth and development in children.
We all want our children to grow up healthy and happy. Fortunately, one of the best ways to achieve this is to simply facilitate what children love the most: play time! While we might think of play as just being for fun, it’s actually an essential way for children to experience and make sense of the world around them, boosting all sorts of learning that develops both the brain and the body.
Play is the perfect way to get children active, giving them the chance to practise their body movements. Play time helps to improve children’s locomotor skills (walking and jumping) and manipulative skills (rolling a ball), as well as enhancing their coordination and balance. There are lots of great physical activities for you and your toddler to do outdoors. The gross motor skills used when rolling and kicking softballs will strengthen the large muscles in the arms, legs and torso, while leaf painting, or even simple finger painting, will use the smaller muscles in the hands and fingers to develop the fine motor skills that will later be needed for writing.
Social and Emotional Development
Group play time creates a rich social environment that encourages children to build relationships, communicate their feelings and express their opinions. Play time with friends is good fun but also helps children develop an understanding of other people’s needs and values. Children will develop a whole host of social skills through play, including co-operation, negotiation, flexibility, teamwork, sharing and turn taking; learning these skills at an early age will help them as they grow older. Play houses can be a great way to set the scene for social development for toddlers.
Cognitive Development and Problem-Solving
Play is a fantastic way to boost brain power and just 20 minutes of outside play
in natural, green surroundings can help children to concentrate more in school. How does it work? Well, physical activity enlarges the part of the brain that helps you to pay attention, therefore heightening concentration levels. Better focus allows children to more easily solve problems and puzzles. Simply matching up shapes to the right sized holes in a box or stacking hoops onto a pole will be both great fun and beneficial for your toddler.
Creative and Imaginative Development
Perhaps the less obvious advantage that comes with play is the creative and imaginative development. Children who have opportunities for free and unstructured play time, including pretend play, will flourish creatively. Creative play can be very simply achieved by providing toddlers with puppets and watching as they pretend the little characters are really speaking to each other. Creative play is an essential part of helping children explore and understand new concepts in a way that makes sense to them.
It’s time to play! Let your child engage in as many different types of play and fun activities as you can think of; this will stimulate their imagination as well as provide them with a platform to develop different skills. Remember, while they’re getting messy with finger paints or splashing water in the paddling pool, they are also developing into fully-rounded individuals and learning key life skills.