Play-Based Learning and Child Development

Play is the most important way that children learn about the world around them.

Research shows it, and new parents instinctively know it: Play is the most important way that children learn about the world around them. One of the many skills they learn through playing are language skills. I must admit, I get a special satisfaction watching my kids reflect the way my wife and I speak to each other and hearing it integrated into their play. Like so many parents of young children, we have a ritual of things we say and do to get the kids into bed. Hearing shadows of those conversations come out when our son plays with Playper’s King Ketchup, Queen Alpha, and Snuffles the dragon is all I need to understand the importance of pretend play. 

Making Time for Play

Language skills are just one aspect. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that play is essential, “because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.” But while it’s always important for a parent to play with our young children, being busy is a reality, and time is increasingly in short supply. “Despite the numerous benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children.” They also point out that free time for our youngest school children is being squeezed out. I know I am concerned with what I believe is an alarming trend in education, with state-mandated testing taking up large amounts of school time (talk to a kindergarten teacher about the increasing demands on them to test and I bet you’ll find it as ridiculous as I do).

Currently, many schoolchildren are given less free time … this change may have implications on children’s ability to store new information, because children’s cognitive capacity is enhanced by a clear-cut and significant change in activity. Even a formal structured physical education class may not offer the same benefit as free-play recess.

Pretend Play, Cooperative Play

One of the joys of starting up Playper has been the discussions we’ve had exploring the different types of play children can participate in today. On Scholastic.com, the importance of pretend play is laid out for parents of young children. Watching your child pick up a toy car and pretend it can fly or hop a Lego across the table as if it were a bunny brings a smile to a parent’s face, but it should also bring a sense of satisfaction because they’re building developmental skills as they do it. And it’s all the better when the parent joins them.

By pretend playing with others, [children] learn that words give them the means to reenact a story or organize play. This process helps your child to make the connection between spoken and written language — a skill that will later help him learn to read.

This same article also points out what I’ve been noticing watching my children play together with Playper, and that’s the development of social and emotional skills.

Through cooperative play, they learn how to take turns, share responsibility, and creatively problem-solve. When your child pretends to be different characters, they have the experience of “walking in someone else’s shoes,” which helps teach the important moral development skill of empathy. It is normal for young children to see the world from their own egocentric point of view, but through maturation and cooperative play, your child will begin to understand the feelings of others.

Problem-Solving Skills

Developing those all-important problem-solving skills comes from the right play setting. With Playper toys, it begins as soon as they pop the toy pieces out of the full-color templates. We designed them to be easy enough for the child to do on their own, though I encourage parents to do it with them – at least the first one. Speaking from experience, it’s both fun and rewarding for parents to build that castle with their child and watch the child beam with a sense of accomplishment.

A big joy I have is watching my son create characters that are uniquely his. He comes up with funny voices and goes about creating cute stories with the toy figures. Apparently, King Ketchup had a birthday the other day and both the knight and Snuffles the dragon were invited. I would not have come up with that one! But that’s an example of developing social skills. This type of imaginative play is exactly what we were going for when we created Playper.

So I hope parents are cognitive of the clear benefits their child is gaining during different types of play, and that they encourage it; after all, they’re laying the groundwork for life-enhancing skills. And if you can, set aside the time, get down on the floor and join in, and make some funny voices yourself. You’ll be glad you did!

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