It was our friends who introduced us to pretend play. We usually portray roles of each member of the family. The eldest girl takes on the role of the mom who stays home and looks after the kids. The eldest boy is the dad who goes to work and comes home at night. The rest of the kids play the part of the children, the nanny, and the driver. Often times we use leaves or flowers from our garden as ingredients for the pretend food we make. At that time all I know is we are just playing and having fun. However, now that I am a mom, I learned the true meaning behind play.
Of course children play to have fun. But that is not the most important reason why we should encourage our children to play. By observing how kids play, I learned that play helps children grow in more ways than one.
1. Playing outdoors keeps children fit.
Most kids, if not all, love to run. So while they are playing tag or just running in the playground going from one structure to another, they are unaware that they are having a good form of exercise by burning calories. Another benefit kids get from playing outdoors is that they get their natural dose of vitamin D from sunlight. We all know that vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium, thus making our bones strong and saving us from getting rickets.
2. Playing improves children's motor skills.
Every time kids play tag, jump rope, or play in the playground, they are helping themselves by improving their gross motor skills. These activities entail the use of their arms and legs such that each time they try to climb up the slide, their arm and leg muscles are working together for better muscle coordination. If, on the other hand, you have a child who likes to draw or color/paint, or is just plain crafty, he/she is still having a therapeutic form of activity my enhancing his/her fine motor skills.
3. Playing enhances social skills.
Giving toys to your child and having him/her sit and play with it is not enough to help his/her social growth. As a parent, it is our responsibility to teach our children how to make friends. If we bring them to a playground or simply allow them to have playdates, they are developing the ability to interact with their peers. Not only that, as time goes by they learn problem solving skills by knowing what to do when some circumstances happen. For example, while your toddler is playing with his friend, his friend suddenly snatched his toy from him. Your toddler's initial reaction is to cry or shout at his playmate in hopes of getting the toy back. But as your toddler grow older and more mature, with your guidance, he will start to think of a more diplomatic way on how to have his toy back like using words instead of crying (i.e. I am not done playing with it. May I have my toy back?). Or he could just simply ignore the act and find other toy to play with.
4. Playing expands imagination and vocabulary.
I am always amazed at how kids use a lot of verbal skills while playing. Every time I bring my toddler to a playschool, I see older children gathered at one corner pretending to cook something for lunch in the toy kitchen. They seem to be infused with a lot of ideas on what ingredients they should put in and how they are going to cook their food. I even remember one girl asking another girl if she wants to taste the banana soup she made.
There are many more benefits your child can get from playing other than those I provided. Bottom line here is let your child engage in interactive play rather than having him/her play all by himself/herself or play video games. If by chance, there is no other kid in your household your child can play with, then by all means do the honor and play with him/her. So what are you waiting for moms and dads? Go to the playroom and pretend play with your little one or head out and go biking.