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What are the benefits of play?

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Why exactly is play so important?

Pause for a moment and think about how you feel when you play? Chances are you feel happy, invigorated and refreshed! Yes I'm talking about playing as an adult too - there's a wonderful saying by George Bernard Shaw that goes 'we don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing'!

Play is vital for ALL people in promoting a quality of life, emotional wellbeing and also physical health. But for our children, especially during early childhood (0-5yrs) play is cruicial, so much so that it is protected in the 1989 United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, Article 31. If our children experience play-deprivation (and I hasten to add that by this I mean a real sense of neglect and not a case of sometimes their loving parents are too tired to play, so don't panic!) they are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders and their language, communication and social skills may not meet developmental expectations. The opportunity to play is vital to support our children's natural development.

We also know that play is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to learning, and acquiring new skills. Play allows opportunities to problem solve, collaborate, communicate, experiment, test and hone these new skills whilst laying down neurological pathways so that this knowledge stays with us for a lifetime.

Why is it so important that children have a love of learning?

The answer is quite straightforward really, if we enjoy an activity we are willing to spend more energy on it - the same goes for children. If a child experiences feelings of boredom, dread, frustration or even distress whilst doing something, they will not be engaged with it. The brain is in many ways, very primal. If we are distressed we lose the ability to learn as our brain is busy preparing our body for a fight, flight or freeze response.

So how can we ensure our children are enjoying the things that we are teaching them?

PLAY! Learning through play is incredibly effective, so bring some playfulness to the (metaphoric) table. Here are some starting tips:

1. Smile! This starts right from the beginning of infancy: our baby holds our gaze, we smile, they reach out and touch our face, we smile, they clap and we smile and so on. If we reflect the energy and emotion that we hope to cultivate then our children will often mirror it.

2. Move! We can tap into their enjoyment further by adding movement to the moment. Spread the learning around a room, incorporate some running, hopping or jumping from one element to another. Treasure hunts are particularly great for this, or taking your learning outdoors (need more Outdoor Play idas? Tap here). All children need movement to learn, so by expecting long periods of stillness (such as sitting as a table doing worksheets) of our children we are actually inhibiting their learning!

3. Sing! The part of your brain that controls our language skills and memory is the same part that responds to music. Isn't the brain amazing? So if you an incorporate music into your activity you will be tying that activity to a memory, making it more likely to be recalled.

Play connects us

This is so true and part of the reasons that we feel refreshed when we play with others. Our lives are so fast-paced and busy, and as adults our lives are also heavy with the weight of responsibility and mundanity. Play gives us some light relief and although it can feel like a Hurculean effort to begin, we always reap the rewards afterwards (much like exercise!). When we feel connected to our team, children, friends or family - whoever it may be, we are more likely to communicate more effectively and respond more positively. This in turn will improve our behaviour towards others and can even repair relationships! Think about how strained your relationship may be with a partner, but after some time together doing something fun or having a date day, things just seem to be a little bit easier... It's the same for our children too. When we spend regular time playing together, we connect. When we feel connected we also feel loved, safe and secure.

There's a lot of reasons there to get more play in your daily routine, but it boils down to the simple fact that it is fun and I KNOW we can all do with a bit more fun. If you would like some positive and gentle support in navigating your child's behaviour then take a look at my Behaviour Subscription service by clicking here.

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