Play activities are essential for child development. Your child can develop core skills through play, and you can provide materials and opportunities for them to strengthen their abilities as they grow. Understanding the importance of playtime for children helps you support your child through each stage of development.
What Is Free Play?
Play is an excellent learning opportunity for children because it's enjoyable and engaging. Both playful learning and free play are important, but they offer different benefits. While playful learning offers a fun structured learning approach, free play allows children to engage in unstructured imaginative play.
Is Playing Important for Pediatric Development?
Playing is essential for pediatric development and the main way children learn. Consider the following benefits of playtime for pediatric development:
Imagination and Creativity
Playing builds imagination and creativity. It allows children to explore, make decisions, discover the world around them, learn about themselves, interact with others and have fun.
When babies, toddlers, or children play, they learn and stimulate cognitive growth without realizing it. When children play, they engage in activities such as counting, talking, singing, dancing, building, painting, decision-making and imaginative make-believe.
Emotional and Behavioral Development
Playing with parents, caregivers and their peers helps children build social-emotional skills. Through play, children can learn how to interact with others, share toys and develop emotional resilience. Playing one-on-one with others also helps children manage stress.
Your child can develop independence through play. Allowing children to lead their playtime activities helps them to make personal decisions and develop confidence. They can learn about themselves, their interests, their abilities and the world around them through play.
Play is an excellent way to develop physical fitness and abilities. Engaging in physical activities helps children maintain good health, explore safely and develop their growing muscles and gross motor skills.
Top Benefits of Playing at Each Age
Playtime is vital at each developmental stage, but various activities offer different benefits at each age. Consider how play activities can help your child develop in the following stages:
Benefits for Children Birth to Six Months
Between birth and six months, your baby can develop and learn through the following activities:
- Tummy time
- Listening to parents and caregivers talk to them
- Listening to music
- Reaching and grasping for toys
Tummy time helps infants develop muscles they will eventually use to support their head independently, roll, sit up, crawl, take their first steps and practice motor skills. It also prevents flat spots on babies' heads because it reduces their time lying flat on their backs.
Babies engage in tummy time by lying on their stomachs for three to five minutes while a parent or caregiver sits closely and interacts with them. Tummy time is an excellent time to incorporate toys because babies can practice lifting their heads and reaching for toys as their muscles strengthen. Engage infants in two to three daily tummy time sessions with toys of various colors, shapes and sizes. Tummy time can help babies start to roll at around six months.
Talking and singing to babies helps them develop language skills. Hearing their parents' and caregivers' voices helps them feel calm and form emotional bonds. Babies observe your sounds and facial movements when you talk to them, teaching them how to move their mouth, lips and tongue to form sounds and words. A baby can typically start forming vowel sounds between four and six months.
Reaching for, grasping and feeling toys develops a baby's muscles and their sense of touch. Reaching for toys helps them improve their hand-eye coordination. Grasping toys also helps them engage in more controlled and voluntary movements.
Benefits for Children Seven Months to One Year
You can support your child's development between seven months and one year with the following activities:
- Tummy time
- Sitting up with help and independently
- Exploring various toys
- Listening to talking and singing
- Engaging in back-and-forth babbling with adults
Babies typically begin babbling and combining vowels and consonants to form syllables between six and seven months. During this age, babies also start distinguishing their native language's sounds and words by observing adults' speech sounds. Talking to babies and repeating their babbling sounds helps them develop social-emotional skills with a back-and-forth conversation.
Tummy time also continues to be an integral part of a baby's development after seven months. Babies can start to sit up with help and independently between six and nine months. They can also start to slide around on the floor, rock back and forth on their hands and knees and may eventually start crawling between six and nine months. Placing various toys around the room encourages babies to move around and develop their muscles even further.
After a year, babies start pulling themselves up to standing positions, strengthening their leg muscles, increasing their coordination and taking steps. At this age, babies learn by exploring their environment and toys.
Benefits for Children One to Three Years
Between one and three years, children can learn and develop through the following activities:
- Make-believe play
- Dress-up activities
- Singing and dancing
- Listening to stories
- Playing and talking with adults
- Building with blocks
Talking and singing to toddlers helps them learn how to say and understand new words and sound patterns. Children can engage in fun games or songs with motions and talk while they play with toys. Toddlers can learn approximately 10 new words a day, so talking, reading and singing to them frequently can help them increase their vocabulary.
Children start to develop independence around age two. This is an excellent time to provide them with dress-up clothes, blocks, cardboard boxes, baby dolls, play doctor kits and kitchen sets. Unstructured playtime allows children to engage in make-believe role-playing, helping them develop independence and creativity.
Playing with cardboard boxes and blocks helps toddlers develop fine motor skills. Grasping objects develops their small hand muscles, and stacking blocks helps them improve their coordination skills. Cardboard boxes are simple objects children can use to develop their imagination, pretending they have a tunnel to climb through or a spaceship to sit in.
Benefits for Children Four to Six Years
You can support your child's development between four and six years by encouraging the following activities:
- Make-believe play
- Singing and dancing
- Building with objects such as empty containers and boxes
- Arts and crafts
- Matching games
- Playing sports
Children typically begin to engage in associative play between the ages of two and four, and they start to develop more social-emotional skills through cooperative play at age four. While associative play involves playing side-by-side with other children, cooperative play involves more interaction and collaboration. As children engage in imaginative play, singing, dancing, and group games, they develop socialization skills and build friendships.
Children can continue to develop their fine motor skills with materials such as play-doh and arts and crafts tools. Arts and crafts materials are also excellent tools for developing creativity, and playing or building with cardboard boxes encourages imagination.
Puzzles and matching games can increase a child's concentration and memory, and they can help children learn how to work together, take turns and cooperate.
Playtime also helps children develop gross motor skills between ages four and six. Running outside, kicking a ball, climbing stairs, riding bikes and scooters, and completing fun obstacle courses helps children develop coordination and muscle strength.
Learn More About the Importance of Play in a Child's Development
Playtime is an essential part of a child's physical, social-emotional and cognitive development. Children can explore the world around them, learn about themselves, develop independence, learn how to communicate effectively and form friendships through play.
Premier Pediatric Therapy believes in the power of playtime, and we use play activities to help children grow and develop. Our play-based model incorporates fun and high-energy activities to engage children in therapy in an enjoyable manner.
If you believe your child is experiencing a developmental delay, you can seek help from Premier Pediatric Therapy, part of the Kids SPOT Family of Companies. Our experienced team provides high-quality care through play-based activities. Contact us to learn more about our services and how play-based therapy can help your child develop.