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Why Play Is Important For a Child's Development

by Vannessa Rhoades 28 May 2024
Why Play Is Important For a Child's Development

From the first contagious giggles of peek-a-boo to the exuberant laughter of a game of hopscotch, play is more than just a momentary escape for children. It is the cornerstone of their development, shaping their brains, bodies, and social bonds in profound ways. In fact, it’s so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) underscores the gravity of play in their clinical report, The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Today, we’re taking a closer look at why imaginative play is important for a child's development. It’s not just fun and games – it’s also serious business for a child’s health.

Prescription to Play: Why Imaginative Play Is Important for a Child’s Development

In the face of so many modern challenges threatening to sideline the essence of childhood, the AAP reveals a disheartening decline in playtime. The culprits? Tightly wound schedules, diminishing safe play spaces, and the escalating presence of screens in a child's life. In response, pediatricians are stepping into an unconventional role, armed not with traditional medicines but with a "prescription for play." This prescription is recommended at every well-child visit up to age 2, emphasizing the critical role play plays in a child's early years. Simultaneously, parents are urged to seek out quality childcare and preschool programs that incorporate playful learning approaches. It's a call to return to the fundamental building blocks that nurture a child's growth.

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Age-appropriate Playful Learning

The AAP recognizes that learning is best when it aligns with a child's natural inclination to play. When they enthusiastically immerse themselves in and happily discover the world around them, children learn skill like cooperation and innovation that have become increasingly important in today’s modern world. Here are a few age-appropriate ways parents can encourage learning and help kids reach developmental milestones during play:

  • From birth to 6 months, simple interactions like smiling and cooing become the foundation for social-emotional skills. 
  • As children progress to 7 to 12 months, the emphasis shifts to exploration, sensory experiences, and the development of object permanence through activities like peek-a-boo.
  • Moving into the toddler years (1 to 3 years old), unstructured playtime takes center stage. The AAP encourages parents to choose childcare and preschools that prioritize playful learning. Simple objects like blocks and containers become tools for creativity, while peer interactions and imaginative play help build crucial social skills.
  • For the 4 to 6 years old age group, focusing on activities involving music, art, and storytelling is ideal. Parents should strive to encourage a balance between make-believe games and reality, as well as provide opportunities for socializing, physical activity, and minimizing screen time.

Why Play Is Important For a Child's Development

Using Play to Reduce Stress

Beyond the cognitive and physical benefits, play emerges as a potent stress buster. Playful interactions build safe, stable relationships that act as a buffer against toxic stress, fostering social-emotional resilience. One noteworthy study, highlighted by the AAP, reveals that allowing anxious preschoolers to engage in just 15 minutes of play significantly reduces stress levels compared to alternative activities.

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Various Types of Play

Understanding the diversity of play is key to maximizing its benefits. 

  • Toys and object play transform babies into little scientists, tapping into their sensory-motor skills to explore properties and conduct "experiments." Preschool-age children use objects to develop abstract thought and concepts like symbolism. 
  • Physical play, such as free play during recess, helps develop motor skills, prevent childhood obesity, and build emotional intelligence.
  • Outdoor play takes on an especially crucial role, allowing children to use all their senses to build skills like spatial awareness and balance. Exposure to nature also helps instill an appreciation for climate resilience. Additionally, outdoor play improves attention span, with several studies suggesting a correlation between increased recess time and academic success in later years. Sadly, an alarming 30% of U.S. kindergarten children no longer have recess. The AAP encourages parents and caregivers to advocate for safe playgrounds.
  • Pretend play, often dismissed as mere whimsy, emerges as a powerhouse for young minds. It lets children experiment with different social roles and learn to cooperate. Dressing up, make-believe, and imaginary play encourage creativity and build higher-level negotiation, communication, and language skills.

The Bottom Line on Why Play Is So Important

In a world where schedules are becoming increasingly rigid and screens vie for attention, the importance of play cannot be overstated. The AAP's call for a "prescription for play" is a wake-up call for parents to prioritize unstructured, imaginative play in their child's life. It is through play that children develop the skills necessary for the 21st century—skills like teamwork, innovation, and emotional regulation. So, the next time your child tugs at your sleeve and asks to play, remember that it's not just a moment of fun; it's an investment in their future. Embrace the joy of discovery, connect with your child, and witness the world unfold through the lens of play—because in the realm of childhood development, play is serious business.

At ANB Baby, we understand that play is an essential part of your child’s brain development. Whether you’re headed out for errands or just staying in for a quiet evening at home, having the right kids' toys at hand will keep your child active and entertained wherever you are. From learning toys to stroller and car seat toys, at ANB Baby you can browse and shop our wide selection of kids' toys for every stage of your child’s development, no matter their age.


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