Play is where it’s at for kids, from the exploratory play of toddlers to the complex games enjoyed by teens. At every age and stage, play gives children a wonderful way to explore new ideas, develop their skills, work through anxiety or stress, and entertain or calm themselves.
Marc Battle, an ECE professor at Winnipeg’s Red River College, assures us that there is no “right” way to play: “We had these great big industrial cardboard tubes at our daycare, and I was watching the kids play with them. The older kids, the five- and six-year-olds, were doing very complex ramping with them, piling them up in great big sets of stairs and running cars down them, stuff like that. The toddlers and three-year-olds would grab those same tubes and whack them against things — against the shelf, against the stairs, against another kid sometimes. They were still at the stage of just exploring the materials. So what each age group took out of the same plaything was completely different — and completely right for them.”
Older children often move freely from challenging, “mature” play activities to the simple pleasures of a younger age. Watch a group of preteen boys labour over a complicated Dungeons and Dragons map: Their focus and skill is impressive. Minutes later, they will be chasing around the house trying to bean each other with rolled-up socks. Both of these types of play are valuable, though for different reasons. Some is purposeful and goal-oriented; some is relaxing or simply a vehicle for socializing. Your daughter and her girlfriends may spend an entire Saturday scripting and costuming a performance, or they may just loaf around reading old comic books, giggling and daydreaming together.
Play feeds every aspect of your child’s development, especially if her activities are varied and open-ended: Play with a friend (or three) develops social skills, while solitary play strengthens attention span and self-direction. Puzzles and building sets enhance logic, spatial reasoning and fine-motor control. Pretending feeds the imagination and emotional health, allowing your child to explore roles, fears and relationships, and learn to create a narrative and predict consequences. Active play builds muscles and agility; drawing and crafts foster eye-hand coordination and self-expression. Problem solving informs virtually every type of play.
In a word, play is vital. Isn’t it great that it’s also so much fun?
Observing (and if you’re invited, joining in!) your child’s play will give you a fascinating glimpse of his inner life. So don’t hold back — get down on the floor or pull up a chair, and find out what’s so special about playtime.