Critical is the word that first springs to mind in evaluating the importance of play in a child’s life. However, I’ve long claimed that we’d fare much better as a nation if kids dropped at playgrounds rather than schools.
Physical Development Of Play
Early play develops a wide array of gross-motor, fine-motor, and sensory-motor-integration skills such as laterality (coordinating left-side and right-side movement), balance, ballistics (extreme exertions), use of pens and scissors and other hand tools, hand-eye coordination and many, many others. Indeed, actual physical development such as the arch of the palm depends on it, and limiting activity and exploration can be quite detrimental to a child.
Social Development Of Play
It’s hard to beat the confidence conferred by early athletic prowess. Even harder to hit is the cohesiveness of a group of children learning together. And even better than that is free sports, children are playing on their own or lightly supervised. However, Some aspects of a well-integrated personality–autonomy, volition, circumspection, empathy, agency–can not easily take teaching; they arise spontaneously from vivid group interaction. These same interactions will both reduce the tendency of some to bully and will provide tactics for others to more effectively deal with bullying.
Having a wide variety of play from solo to a small group to a large group and from passive to active to exuberant/aggressive will impart leadership and followership skills as well as help each child better define their place in the group. The play thus gives a sense of worth and belonging that classroom activities do not tend to do. moreover, Rough play helps kids develop their innate understanding of boundaries and how to speak up on their behalf. Same for exploratory and risky play such as tree climbing and edging buildings. Building “forts” whether out of blankets and boxes in the living room or boards and crates in the woods nurses the development of the sense of personal space and safety when venturing out.
However, mind and character are much developed by all the preceding. Beyond that, if you want a gifted reader, sing with your child. If you wish to a talented writer, compose and sing your goofy songs. If you’re going to a mathematician, climb–it’s nothing but problem-solving in real-time and space. Moreover, If you wish to a brave child, play hide-and-go-seek out at the mall.
If you want a creative genius, nothing promotes it like galumphing, the high hilarity of cut-loose, madcap play. More social confidence–skits and acting (probably the scariest prospect for kids is an embarrassment, a likelihood greatly diminished once all have willingly made butts of themselves). Improved concentration–playing cards. Improved decorum–games like “May I.” Enhanced imagination–every single form of play as opposed to the classroom.
Moreover, Human beings learn very little via the brain alone. We learn minds and hands prodigiously together, and we retain what we learn that way.
The single most important attribute any child can have gained on the way to adulthood is autonomy or self-actualization. Play confers that.