“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Play is essential to the development of cognitive, physical emotional and social competencies (Ginsburg et al, 2007; Lowry, 2012).
When we play, we learn to think, to move, to feel and to understand how other children think and feel. We acquire skills. We talk. We encounter a problem and try to solve it. We get angry, we feel happy. We make friends and we make enemies. We learn to negotiate and we learn to cooperate. We build relationships and above all, we develop the skills that we will need for the rest of our lives to navigate our social world at home, at school, in the workplace and in the community.
Imagine a pretend play kitchen with pretend play pots and pans, plates, cups and food. Oh, the preparation and the washing up that goes into a tea party! Imagine a toy supermarket with toy food, cash register and money. In order to enact a play sequence, we have to first choose our food, pay for it, bring it to the cashier, count out the money… It is so new and interesting that we do it repeatedly.
See the social schema that we are developing as we play repeatedly and expand on the routine sequences that we have observed the adults in our world perform. See the language that we use and learn to use as we request for items and negotiate. See the relationships we build as learn to play with others.
Children learn to play in different stages: becoming aware of the existence of objects, taking and requesting for objects that they want; discovering the functions of different toys; imitating simple actions such as drinking from a cup; playing with dolls and other people; reenacting familiar daily experiences such as playing house; re-enacting less familiar experiences such as going to the doctor; adding sequences of events that are connected; adding problems and solutions and playing with more complex props (Westby, 1980).
The benefits of play are endless, but the opportunities to play seem to be vanishing in our fast-paced, technologically-driven world today. Look around and one sees children staring intently at shiny smart phones and tablets, interacting excitedly with the screens. Technological savvy is a good skill to acquire in our digital age today, but when we play, we open a whole new world of possibilities for ourselves and our children and we teach our children to live.
If you were given a choice, would you choose to play? To teach your children to play? To dream and to imagine? And if so, why? What would you do to make it happen?
Lowry, L. (2012). The Land of Make Believe: How and Why to Encourage Pretend Play. The Hanen Centre, Hanen Early Language Program.
Ginsburg, K.R. & the Committee on Communications & the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Promoting Strong Parent-Child Bonds. The American Academy of Pediatrics, 119(1), 182 - 191.
Westby, C. (1980). The Assessment of Cognitive and Language Abilities Through Play. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, XI, 154 – 168.
About The Author
Ee Laine Lua is a Registered Speech-Language Therapist (MSPA, CPSP, MSALTS). She is currently running Play and Talk (PAT), a play-based language facilitation programme funded by EDIS Cares, with Fei Yue Family Service Centre (Champions Way).