Play refers to any form of activity, which children engage in at free will to have fun (Carlisle, 2009, pp. 23-24). In most instances, the type of play that children undertake results from intrinsic motivation without the expectation of an external reward. Similarly, children manage the plays by determining how to conduct the play activity. Therefore, play is a non-programmed activity without clearly specified outcomes, which in most cases, is out of touch with the ordinary life (Carlisle, 2009, p. 31).
Various types of plays that children undertake contribute immensely to their development. Playing enables children to fully experience and discover their world. Adults should provide adequate support, play space, as well as, different types of play materials to promote the present and the future wellbeing of children. Therefore, this paper examines the importance and characteristics of play in the first two years of child development, as well as, the link between play and wellbeing.
The Importance of Play
Playing is crucial to the healthy development of children and their wellbeing. Play is beneficial to children in several ways. For instance, play helps in the cognitive development of a child, thereby enabling the child to understand and make sense of his or her world (Carlisle, 2009, pp. 56-58). Play facilitates the process of brain development, which occurs majorly during the early years of a child’s development.
Play helps in the development of new neural connections that are crucial to effective learning in the later years of a child’s development. Through play, a child can interpret new experiences by building on the already acquired knowledge. Play enables a child to develop his or her thinking capabilities, which is crucial in problem-solving and construction of new knowledge.
When babies are given a chance to engage in free, unstructured plays, they can develop the ability to think creatively and to exploit their imaging capabilities. For example, during play, a child may develop new ideas and ways of constructing objects that are similar to those in their surroundings. Therefore, an opportunity to play enables a child to stand a better chance of handling new experiences and challenges.
The play also enables a child to develop a sense of emotional intelligence. Play helps a child to perceive the emotional state of others, which enhances how a child relates to those around him or her. The play also promotes the development of positive emotions such as joy among children because play enables a child to develop the skill of entertaining themselves.
Therefore, from an early age, a child will develop the ability to be self-reliant. Involvement in various forms of play enables a child to experience less negative emotions of fear, anxiety, stress, as well as, irritability while promoting calmness and the ability of a child to handle surprises and changes that he or she may encounter on a day-to-day basis. Hence, play greatly contributes to the emotional development and wellbeing of a child.
The play also helps in language development among children. Acquisition of language is very important in the developmental process of a child because language is the major means of communication. Therefore, developing a proficient oral language will enhance communication between the child and those around him or her. Play enables children “to learn and use language for various purposes, with different people, and in different scenarios” (Carlisle, 2009, p. 61).
For instance, exposure to pretend plays in the early years of child development will enable a child to discover the meaning of various words that make up a language. Therefore, a child will always try to think about how to communicate appropriately, thereby enhancing language fluency.
Group play also enables children to develop purposeful verbal communication. For instance, children often use language to communicate with their peers while playing. Children in the early years of development often use few words to express themselves. Play enables children to listen to their peers as they talk and act. As a result, they also mimic similar sounds to learn various words.
Additionally, several children find pleasure in playing with language to understand word sounds, syllables, as well as, grammatical structure. For instance, children can develop a good mastery of their language by listening to jokes, riddles, and songs with rhyming words that often have elements of language play. Therefore, play greatly contributes to language development among children. Additionally, “proficiency gained in the oral language is essential for the success of all children in a school set-up” (Carlisle, 2009, p. 78).
Play may also help in revealing the level of literacy understanding among children. For instance, “children’s first attempts at reading and writing often occur during dramatic play as they read environment print, make shopping lists, and play school” (Carlisle, 2009, p. 223). Children may develop deeper comprehension and understanding of various rudiments in written stories by participating in dramatic plays.
Engagement in dramatic plays enables children to gain more understanding about science, as well as, fiction. Several children rely on the knowledge gained through oral language to understand information written in books. Involvement in dramatic plays enables children to develop their version of stories. Therefore, “classroom teachers should understand and observe various ways in which children engage in plays” (Carlisle, 2009, pp. 200-205). Understanding children’s involvement in plays is important in determining their literacy level.
The play also promotes social, as well as, physical development of a child. Play enables children to interact with others, thereby developing their ability to relate with others effectively. Playing provides a child with an opportunity to develop values such as empathy, compassion, and sharing from an early age.
Similarly, a child also gets the opportunity to master several nonverbal communication skills. For instance, at an early age, a child can be able to understand and master various facial expressions and gestures. The play also enables a child to develop an attachment to others and build trust.
On the other hand, children also benefit physically through various plays. Plays promote proper development of coordination and balance among children. As a result, play helps to eliminate stress, as well as, fatigue among children. Additionally, play enables children to develop positive emotions, which increases the functioning of the endocrine, as well as, the cardiovascular systems.
The play also helps to promote a sense of togetherness within a community and facilitate the process of passing the culture of a given community from one generation to another. It is crucial for children to gain knowledge about various cultural aspects of their society. For instance, every society has a distinct culture that differentiates it from other cultures.
Therefore, play enables children to explore and learn about their culture. Play enables children to have an opportunity of learning societal rules and symbols, which will enable the children to fit easily in the society, as they grow older.
Additionally, play helps to promote and develop a foundation of fairness and cooperation, which is crucial to communal living (Carlisle, 2009, p. 103). For instance, during social play, children can develop negotiation skills among themselves, as well as, how to cooperate to form a stronger team. Such skills are important because they enable children to grow up into adults that are more responsible.
Characteristics of Play
The plays in which children undertake during the first and second year of their development exhibit several characteristics. For instance, several children engage in sensory-motor play during their first year of development. Whereby, children will repeatedly perform a motor or sensory activity previously learned.
Several children in their first year of development derive pleasure from engaging in repeated sensory motor activities. Most children develop an interest in playing with unsophisticated objects at around five months. However, in most instances, the infants are usually more interested in their actions upon the objects rather than the play objects. During the age of nine to ten months, several children develop the ability to differentiate various play objects. Majority of children often prefer new objects to older ones.
Similarly, several children at the age of nine to ten months develop the ability to handle various objects in different ways to generate information from the objects. Therefore, most children aged one year old usually engages in discovery play. The major aim is to explore their environment to determine the texture, shape, size, and how various objects are made.
During the second year of development, most children develop the appropriate use of objects and engage more in symbolic play. At this stage, children begin to shift attention from self to the external environment. Similarly, they also develop the ability to substitute and incorporate more objects into their plays.
For instance, a child may use a box as a car. During the second year of a child’s development, parents should provide their children with various toys to enable children to discover what they like. Similarly, a variety of toys will help to stimulate and prolong play among children. Some may also begin engaging in imaginative play at the age of two years, whereby they imitate various animal sounds and behavior.
Additionally, children aged two years old also participate in social play, whereby they play together in groups. During social play, children can initiate their games and design rules on how to play. Social play enables children to develop socialization skills such as cooperation, sharing, as well as, honesty.
These skills are important, as they will enable the child to develop into a more responsible adult in the future. However, adults also play a crucial role in the play of children because they act as directors and can encourage children to develop desired social behavior during social play.
The relationship that Exists Between Play and Wellbeing
One major reason for play is to have fun. Therefore, enjoyment is one of the key reasons why several children play. The play evokes positive emotions in children, which are crucial to the attainment of the wellbeing and health of children. Play enables children to experience feelings of joy, which contributes immensely to the development of high self-esteem and good health.
Additionally, play enables children to have a healthy lifestyle. For instance, play enables children to burn calories that may be stored as fat if they lead to inactive lifestyles. Therefore, play may help in the reduction of health problems such as obesity among children, as well as, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by the in the ability of a child to concentrate on one task. Most cases of ADHD among children are linked to diminished play opportunities. Hence, an active play lifestyle has the potential to boost the physical, social, and emotional wellbeing of a child.
Through play, children can develop several skills and competencies, such as decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, and developing emotional intelligence (Carlisle, 2009, p. 157). However, inadequate play may inhibit optimal learning and development in children, which may interfere with a child’s ability to socialize appropriately with other people. Inadequate play may result in impaired brain development because play is crucial in the process of brain development.
Additionally, play deprivation may also lead to deviant social behaviors among children, such as hyperactivity and increased aggression. Therefore, insufficient play among children has the potential of negatively affecting the wellbeing of a child’s developmental process. Unfortunately, there has been a great decline in outdoor children play. As a result, most children have developed negative behaviors such as anxiety, depression, as well as, suicidal feelings.
Parents and teachers should collaborate to promote outdoor play. Children should have opportunities to play with their mates, as well as, the opportunity to play on their own. During solitary play, adults should provide children with ample time without interference. Similarly, adults should not dominate children’s play to prevent boredom when the children are left on their own.
Play forms an integral part of a child developmental process. The types of plays that children engage in differ depending on the child’s age. For instance, at the age of one year, most children engage in repeated sensory motor play activities, which are mostly solitary.
At the age of nine months, most children develop the ability to engage in discovery play to explore their environment. In the second year of their development, most children can participate in social play. Plays have several benefits for children. For instance, play helps in cognitive and language development among children.
Similarly, play helps to promote the emotional and physical wellbeing in children. The play also helps in determining the literacy level. Therefore, children who engage in several plays can experience a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, the inadequate play has the potential of hurting children, such as deviant behaviors and health problems such as obesity among children. Therefore, children should have ample playtime to realize optimal development and functioning.
Carlisle, R. (2009). Encyclopedia of play in today’s society. New York: Sage.