Did you know the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has included play as a criteria in its accreditation process for programs for young children? There’s a reason why play is so important. They are developing critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence and reasoning. Play will help children become better students, develop socialization skills and prepare them for life in our ever-changing, complicated and fascinating world.
There are four basic types of play: dramatic, manipulative, physical and creative. Let’s look at why each of these are so important and how each can be fostered and encouraged in young children:
- Dramatic. Dramatic play is just what it sounds like…drama! Kids act out fantasies by playing ‘roles,’ whether alone or with other children (or adults). They create imaginary settings and scenarios to act out as if they were adult roles. What’s the best way to encourage dramatic play? Play dress up and let their imaginations run free. Do they want to pretend the blue living room carpet is an ocean? Go for it. Jump on the couch and pretend it’s a boat! Let your child ‘direct’ you in their game.
- Manipulative. This type of play is very important for helping children build fine motor skills. Their little hands and fingers work to pinch, hold, grab and manipulate small toys, blocks, Legos and other items. Puzzles are a great manipulative toys. When children get older, get them engaged in simple crafts like cutting with safety scissors and even beads (added bonus: beads can teach them basic counting).
- Physical. Gross motor skills are developed through physical play. When children use their bodies to run, jump, skip, hop, play with balls and jump rope, they’re helping build muscle and coordination. To help children develop through physical play, take them to the local park with a jungle gym, teach them to ride a bike or scooter and just let them run around and have fun in the backyard! As they get older, organized team sports like soccer and basketball are fantastic ways to help them play through sports.
- Creative. This type of play is less about the end product, like a picture or a craft, and more about the materials they use to make it. Children learn different objects can be used in different ways (clay is a great example) and it also teaches them about color and texture. A way to encourage creative play is by designating an area, or a time of day, to put all types of pencils, paint, clay, markers, glue, yarn, stickers, etc. (making sure everything is age appropriate) and letting them create anything their minds can imagine.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way for a child to play. Children build self-confidence and self-esteem when play is safe but free and unstructured. Spend an afternoon or even an hour playing with your child and watch their little mind grow!