Play is good for children in many ways; In addition to being essential for healthy brain and body development, play supports learning, boosts social, emotional, and creative skills, and sets the course for adulthood; it is even linked to better academic performance and better lifelong learning outcomes.
“Play is about children engaging in positive and active experiences; they are connecting their brains to the world by touching, feeling and feeling the things around them, ”says Bo Stjerne Thomsen, vice president and president of learning through play at the LEGO Foundation.
The game is not just for children; parents also benefit. Before the pandemic, Ben Veal, a business owner and father of two, considered himself “the very definition” of a weekend dad. Because the pandemic changed his work life, he spent more time playing with his children and, as a result, believes that he is a calmer, happier and more involved father. “I was able to appreciate how bright and imaginative children are,” she says. “And I’ve been there for the little moments of joy that I would have missed before, from the first steps and shaking teeth, to camping under the stars and having fun in the park.”
It is vital that children experience a variety of play experiences, because different types of game – from physical movement to creative play – they support development in different ways. Healthy child development involves five key areas – physical, creative, cognitive, social and emotional development – and each area benefits from recreational activities.
Physical play, such as balancing, dancing, and building objects, helps develop concentration as well as the skills necessary to understand mathematical concepts. Symbolic play, such as using household items to make music, fosters language skills, while symbolic play involves the ability to imagine that things could be different, which builds resilience. Creative play, whether with dough, bricks, sand or paint, has been especially important during the pandemic because it’s about “our ability to tune in and understand our feelings,” says Thomsen, which helps regulate emotions.
Understandably, something so vital to healthy development is absolutely instinctive. “Parents don’t have to teach children to play and children don’t need to learn to play; we were all born to play, ”says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, pediatrician and founding director of the Center on the developing child at Harvard University. “Play is about shared experiences of discovery, learning, taking risks and exploring the world; it’s something parents and kids do naturally without knowing anything about the science behind it. “
It’s no wonder, then, that the pandemic has brought about “a tremendous change” in the way families play. “That’s mainly due to the additional burden placed on parents and caregivers,” says Thomsen. “In addition to the uncertainty and stress, parents have had to support learning at home while juggling remote work. Some parents had more time, resources and support from work, but for others it has been devastating: if their health and income were negatively affected, keeping their children at home was very difficult. “
But the confinements also created new opportunities for families to play together. Some children found life less overwhelming with fewer social obligations, while others embraced independent learning. “The ability to learn in a family environment is actually a benefit for some children, if it is a safe, positive and nurturing environment.”
Play also hones coping skills, provides stress relief, and improves well-being, which is why encouraging children to learn through play is so important. A playful approach to meals may mean stacking cereal boxes to make different shapes at breakfast or adding a new ingredient to dinner to find out what it tastes like. “Play gives us a different perspective on everyday life and creates opportunities to see alternatives and apply more flexible thinking,” says Thomsen. “It’s about supporting children’s curiosity (as well as your own), because so much of this phase of our lives has been about uncertainty. But the ability to handle uncertainty, to get out of it, has been a strong positive. “
Amit Shah is a business owner and IT professional who spent more time playing games with his four-year-old son, Ayden, during the lockdown. “I wanted to enjoy these early years with my son, but I always felt like I was missing out on it due to my busy work schedule,” he says. “I learned playful parenting from my wife’s naturally playful approach, and having extra time with the family, without having to travel to work, was an invaluable opportunity to bond, create memories, and stimulate our son’s mental and emotional development.”
The game does not have to be complicated or expensive, but it is important that parents enjoy it too. Sharing your enthusiasm with your child is a natural starting point. Shah created games with her son based on her own love of math. “You can count, compare numbers and quantities, refer to human organs and bones using correct medical terminology, and identify countries just by looking at their shape on a map,” says Shah.
“We have focused on photos rather than cartoons, encouraging physical activities and time outdoors, and replacing screen time with tactile learning resources.”
If playtime with your child seems like a luxury you can’t afford, the resources that inspire play are invaluable. the LEGO Foundation Playlist is an online library of family play activities, while the Unicef Parenting Center offers age-specific game prompts.
Ultimately, the game is our best resource for creating family ties, according to Shonkoff. “Play is a wonderful way for parents and children to get to know each other, for children to learn about human relationships, and for parents to learn about what is special and unique in each child.”
Are you looking for fun and engaging learning through play activities for your children? Visit the LEGO Foundation Play list
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism