Play in early childhood is one of the most important things for a child’s social, intellectual, emotional and physical development. In essence, play is the foundation for all learning in early childhood, as it is through play that children begin to process and understand the world. As such, it is through play in early childhood that a child will develop analytical, problem solving and motor skills, as well as cultivate their imagination and creativity.

What is Play?

There are multiple definitions of play all pointing to the different forms a game might take. Depending on the circumstances, a child might engage in any number of the styles of play, however, typically more social types of play occur amongst older children in early childhood. Play can include using toys, children organizing and playing different roles, playing set games such as “tag” or even simply watching other children play for example.

Play in early childhood is dependant on large blocks of time being assigned to play, for children to develop more sophisticated forms of play. Shorter times being assigned to play, in contrast, will reduce the maturity of the children’s game- thus reducing many of the benefits like problem-solving, persistence, negotiation, cooperation and planning that children gain from longer periods of play. Children should thus be given half an hour to an hour, if not longer, to reap the rewards of play.

Why is play in early childhood so crucial?

Play combines the use of symbols, objects, body, relationships and is a flexible, voluntary and fun activity. Play is a right of childhood and is a universal phenomenon. Some of the benefits of play in early childhood include:

  1. Developing social skills.

Because play provides opportunities to socialise, it helps children to learn to communicate, negotiate and understand others as well as develop their vocabulary through interaction with other children and adults.

Play in early childhood is vital, as it helps children to learn the skills that are the building blocks of learning to do mathematics, as well as to read and write.

  1. Therapeutic benefits.

Because young children are unable to process, or fully understand certain aspects of their life, play in early childhood gives children the opportunity to express disturbing aspects of their daily life. For example, play can be used for a child to process a trauma or family conflict to which they have been exposed.

  1. Cognitive development.

Play in early childhood supports a child’s imagination as well as their ability to learn, concentrate, problem-solve and categorize.

With the modern demands on children and their highly scheduled lives, it is important not only that they are given enough time for free play, but that parents devote their time to play with their children. Spending enough time in play in early childhood, can greatly help that child in their development in multiple spheres of their lives, and is thus as important, if not more important, as regimented learning for children. It is thus that play is considered a right of passage for children.