Many parents want to see their child get an early start at learning by choosing a daycare that conducts classes or enrolling them in a preschool by age three. But don’t be surprised if your child still spends much of his or her time while at daycare or school in the work of play. Experienced young child educators know that play is one of the most beneficial ways your child can spend their time. Both free play and guided play can offer tremendous benefits to your child, especially in their younger years, from the time they are infants through middle grades.
Free Play Vs. Guided Play
Most researchers agree that play is fun, flexible, voluntary, and intrinsically motivated; it involves active engagement and often incorporates make-believe. With guided play, your child still experiences the joyful, self-directed free-play aspects, but with the addition of guidance from an adult to insure that the child is progressing toward a specific learning goal. Whatever the type, play can work to help your child learn important skills that they will need as adults to succeed in today’s global society.
1. Play Can Foster Effective Communication
When your child plays, either alone or with others, he is developing important speech and language skills as well as listening skills. If your child is playing alone, he will typically narrate his action or talk to himself as he maneuvers various toys. For example, “the superhero jumps from the tall building to save the girl from the river.” When playing with other children, your child will communicate purpose and organizational ideas with others. For example, when playing “school,” children will decide who is the teacher, who is the student, and what they will teach/learn. If there is disagreement, children are guided to talk through the issue and work on compromise. Guided play is a model setting for language learning. The exposure to additional vocabulary enriches their own variety of words that they can then incorporate into their language. Guided play fosters word learning for preschoolers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
2. Play Helps Develop Social Skills
During play time, children learn to work with others toward a shared goal. One child may lead play, but must learn to be perceptive of others’ needs. Through play, children learn to be assertive, negotiate, cooperate and share. This collaborative skill is important in developing social skills and building friendships. Once friendships are formed at school or daycare, parents can extend those relationships by planning playdates or setting up a playgroup outside of the original meeting place. Through play, children learn to work through their emotions. Even before they can speak, they express their feelings through physical play, storytelling, art, and other activities. If they experience a negative feeling, they may repeat that experience though play. These social skills are also a vital part of language development. Language is so much more than simply spoken words.
3. Play Develops Cognitive, Critical Thinking, & Motor Skills
Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and sift through information in order to make sense of it and apply it in the context of the environment. This skill involves the part of the front part of the brain that manages attention, memory, control, and flexibility. Having a child point out that they always have storytime before naptime is an example of her using critical thinking. Children learn numeracy and literacy skills through playing with various toys and books and demonstrate their thinking as they talk about what they are doing. Playing with shapes, counting naptime mats out for each child or pages in a book, using illustrations in books to support comprehension – all are examples of the important learning this is happening during both free and guided play time.
Physical play also helps develop important motor skills as well as helps your child work through stress and crankiness. First children develop large motor skills like running, throwing and pedaling. Then, fine motor skills are developed such as writing, coloring, and buttoning. Skipping takes balance, climbing monkey bars builds strength, and sports activities involve coordination. Carefully stacking blocks into towers is not only learning about gravity and balance but also developing hand-eye coordination. When your child is able to feed and dress himself, he will gain a sense of independence which connects directly to the next benefit of play.
4. Play Creates Confidence In Children
One of the most important outcomes of play is the development of confidence in even the youngest child. Without confidence, the ability to take risks and try new things is compromised. As babies, we gain confidence by learning that our needs are important to our parents or other caregivers. Young toddlers use adults as their security homebase from which to explore and learn and they gain confidence as they uncover the many things they can do all by themselves. By the time children reach preschool age, they know they can still trust the adults in their lives, but they also have the confidence they need to take charge.
5. Play Inspires Creativity
Creativity happens when your child’s critical thinking and skill development come together to produce something new or different. Pretending or imaginative play is one of the foundations of a child’s world and they begin demonstrating this skill around the age of 2. Your child may use anything in her world to spur her imagination, including common household objects because he has learned symbolism – that one thing can stand for other things. He may his new ability to pretend by using drink coasters for cookies or transforming a stick into a fishing pole. And he will not only use objects for pretend play, but he will also assume a variety of roles. He may be a superhero one day, a doctor the next, and a daddy the day after. This allows children to explore a variety of different scenarios, reactions and conclusions. Studies show that children who pretend play have more sophisticated levels of interaction with others and a higher cognitive ability.
Choose A Private School That Puts Play First
Research on the effects of play continue to show its positive benefits for active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning. If you’re looking for a school that understands the importance of free and guided play, consider Chatsworth Hills Academy – the premier private school in Los Angeles serving children aged 2 to 8th grade. CHA provides exceptional early childhood education, primary education, and middle school classes and programs with experienced teachers trained in the best teaching methods, including guided play. And it’s the only school in the San Fernando Valley that offers the prestigious International Baccalaureate program for its primary and middle years students. Want to learn more? Call (818) 998-4037 x275 and arrange a tour of our 16-acre campus or ask questions about how CHA incorporates play into their daily learning.