Children's need to play

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Play is essential for social, emotional and cognitive ­development of children. Children who do not play when they are young may grow into anxious, socially maladjusted adults. By playing together children grow as people. By engaging in dramatic play they develop empathy with each other.

Why should I be aware of this?

  • Over structured school days, long hours in front of the TV and computer and “overprotective” parents are making the "wild child” an endangered species. As a result outdoor, unstructured, and loosely supervised play is missing in children's lives. This is replaced by video games and over-commercialized toys.
  • Theorists concur that play develops healthy and creative individuals. Psychoanalysts say it helps master emotional traumas or disturbances; psychosocialists feel it helps ego mastery and learning to live with everyday experiences; constructivists are of the opinion that play promotes cognitive growth; maturationists attribute play to competence building and developing socializing functions in all cultures of the world; and neuroscientists believe it is necessary for emotional and physical health, motivation, and love of learning.

All about child's need to play

Play is recognized as every child’s birth right by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. Children living in poverty are denied this right by limited resources and social forces, including child labor and exploitation practices, war and neighborhood violence. But many children living in abundance too are deprived of the full potential of unstructured play due to increasingly hurried and pressured lifestyles.

Tool to learn about the world

Play is a tool the child uses to learn about the world. While playing a child uses all five senses as a means to learn about his body and the world around him. In toddler years his play becomes more imaginative and complex and his skills and qualities of expression, independence, creativity, curiosity etc come to the fore.

Early learning program

Play is considered by most child development experts as an essential part of early learning program. It should not be seen as a break from learning, but as a process of learning. Researchers have been able to establish more and more connections between children’s play and the learning and social development. Pretend play, they feel, helps them learn to think abstractly and to look at things from someone else’s perspective. Pretend play is also connected to early literacy, mathematical thinking, and problem-solving.

When children play:

  • They use objects, people, and situations to test their ideas which goes a long way in development of academic learning
  • Playing together with other children helps them develop their physical, social, emotional, thinking, and language
  • Learning becomes a natural motivation as by playing children do things they are interested in.
  • By playing together children develop social skills

Play classifications

Children’s play can be broadly classified into groups, some of which are:

  • Social play

Throughout the first year of a child he loves to interact with his parents and others. Infants’ interaction methods are to smile, look, and laugh. Older babies enjoy games such as peekaboo and itsy-bitsy spider.

  • Object play

Four to ten month is the period for experimenting which includes touching, banging, throwing, pushing

  • Functional play

For 12 to 21 month olds it is time to put their knowledge to use. Pushing a lawn mower over grass, combing his mom’s hair are some such efforts.

  • Early symbolic play

Around two years of age the child likes to create something out of nothing. Like a school bus out of a cardboard box, making motor noises with a plate. By such methods a child discovers his areas of interest

  • Role play-- Role playing begins around 30 to 36 months. Most common roles are those of doctors, teachers and mommy.

Outdoor games

According to experts the overall health of children is deteriorating because of reduced outdoor games. Increased use of computers and home tasks force children to be more and more indoor.

Too much 'junk play' has brought about unexpected child obesity in developed countries. Obesity gives birth to a number of child diseases and affects the living style as a whole. Outdoor games help solve these problems Outdoor game also boost team spirit.

What can I do?

Role of parents

  • Many parents today need professionals to tell them that their children are normal and are doing well. Parents today tend to be "hyper-vigilant" and over-program their children's lives, forcing them to prefer indoor where all the electrical outlets are. Child psychologists believe that playing in nature helps children perform better at school.
  • Too much adult control makes children tend to lose some of the benefits play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills.
  • Playing with your children can not only be fun but also a relaxed and easy way to learn about his interests, skills and worries. This way you also show that you care. Here are some ways you can participate in the fun:
  • Play the games they like to play – Watch what their favorite games are and join them in that. It could be as simple as making him a doctor and allowing him to give you an injection.
  • Encourage play of words – Children like to use new and unheard of words which become their vocabulary. You can use these to make up a private family language.
  • Provide toys - Toys enhance their imagination and skills. Parents should take care to select toys for their children – toys that foster curiosity creativity, physical activity and the development of a wide range of skills.
  • Liven up outdoor games - Imaginative outdoor games Introduce objects which increase interest in outdoor games. Apartment houses have limited access to open space and force children to be indoors. It may not be within parents’ comfort zone to always allow children to play out of sight. Instead of keeping them indoor parents can set an example and go and toss a ball or play a chasing game with their children. A routine visit to the park can also help.

Spice up everyday events. Instead of walking to bed pretend to fly in a helicopter

  • Bring in new playmates - Invite neighborhood children to join. Or take your children to parks where they can make new friends
  • Allow them to reach their potential - The challenge for society, schools, and parents is to strike the balance that allows all children to reach their potential without pushing them beyond their personal comfort.
  • See Play Therapy International, an information resource site for therapeutic play, play therapy, filial play and creative arts therapies.

Role of teachers

Children learn more through play when they are guided by well-trained teachers Teachers can help in the following ways

  • By participating in children’s play a teacher can help build a child’s vocabulary by providing new words
  • A teacher can teach sounds of languages and help children learn to recognize the separate sounds in words.
  • When a child plays imaginary driving a teacher can encourage his imagination by asking “Where are you going? What do you see along the way?”
  • Teachers can also device different make-believe games in which children are made to plat different roles.
  • Help a child’s understanding of size comparisons and putting things in order.


  • Baby Center
  • Importance of Play
  • Children's need to play
  • Outdoor Games

Additional Information

  • Visit Outdoor Games for free games ideas for your children