Research shows that learning through play is an important part of a child’s development. Though ensuring your child has enough playtime is a great benefit to families to allow their children to release some extra energy, a child begins to find out who they are through play, even during infancy. Even early in development, a child’s mind is expanding just by looking at their environment and taking in their surroundings.
It has been discovered that children can start benefiting from toys as early as one month old.
Having age-appropriate toys to play with promotes healthy development and critical thinking skills in children. It reinforces memory, helps children understand cause and effect, and helps children explore the world — and their role in it.
This also inspires children to pretend, create, and imagine. Toys allow children to involve their minds in creative, open-ended play helps children conceptualize, brainstorm, and exercise critical thinking skills.
Child development occurs across several areas, including language, motor, social-emotional, and cognitive development. When choosing toys for children, parents can consider how the toys and experiences will support development within and across these areas. Certain toys promote behaviors that encourage development within certain areas. For example, parents can nurture the cognitive skill of object permanence by hiding a toy under a scarf and playing the classic peek-a-boo game.
Infants and toddlers engage in certain types of play, depending on their stage of development. Teachers can maximize opportunities to build new skills.
While you can actually see the physical benefits of play, there are also internal benefits that free play provides, like a child’s emotional development. Free play has an important role in a child’s emotional growth, and research has pointed to three areas where play helps children develop emotionally: building self-confidence and esteem; experimenting with various emotions; and releasing emotions from trauma.
Remember when you used to play? Using pretend play, you used your imagination to break out of your limitations and reality—and not much has changed today. Research shows that children use play to express their emotions and learn to deal with their fears and scary experiences. Age-appropriate toys allow children to play freely and fully express themselves without anyone or anything holding them back. Remember when your playground equipment magically turned into a car, a house or a school? Toys like Lego blocks or Play-Doh foster experimentation and kids get to use their imagination and pretend play to experience different feelings and outcomes.
These experiences and emotions change as kids grow older. For example, preschoolers develop emotional strength and stability, while older children develop spontaneity and humor.
A wide variety of experts agree that play is essential for a child’s brain development. Studies have shown that free play affects neurological development and determines how the neural circuits of the brain are wired. In other words, free play affects a child’s confidence, intelligence and ability to articulate.
Jean Piaget, a leading child development theorist, believed that the role of play in constructing knowledge is the most clearly articulated avenue of children’s development. Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning and we agree wholeheartedly.
In conclusion, the emotional and cognitive development of children during their early years, although not fully dependent on their involvement with open play and age-appropriate toys, bear a direct connection to how children develop important skills during their early childhood.