Play is voluntary engagement in self motivated activities that are associated with pleasure and enjoyment. Play is a naturally occuring phenomenon that promotes a child's engagement, learning, social inclusion and independence (Autism services, 2012). Children usually develop play skills spontaneously and voluntarily. Through play, children learn about their environment, body in space and their place in the world.
Play skills rely upon the ability to plan and sequence activities, problem solve, be creative, transfer skills from one game to another and have body awareness. Play is a crucial avenue for children to develop social skills, societal rules, winning and losing and develop self regulation skills. Most importantly, play is for fun, relaxation and releasing energy
Stages of play
* Play developmental milestones may vary with age. For further info, click on the table below
Learning through play
Play is a diverse and complex behaviour that may be viewed as central to the normal development of children (Autism Spectrum Australia, 2008). Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behaviour, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2005).
A lack of appropriate play may affect the development of a child's turn taking abilities, reciprocal play, motor planning and conflict resolution. Play prepares children for life events, and thus allows them time to practice and perfect certain skills and movements. Thus, play creates a brain that has increased ‘flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life’ (Lester & Russell, 2008).
One of the greatest benefits of play is to assist with the development of social competance and social norms. Through imaginative play, children are able to resolve conflict in a non confrontational manner. For example, playing with dolls and the 'sisters' want the same dress, but end up taking turns and rotating outfits throughout the play. As such, play assists with relationship building, negotiating skills and regulating behaviours.
Play is also crucial as it allows a child to develop independence and autonomy. It encourages a child's freedom of choice, imaginative play, self expression and positive feelings of success and optimism. It also fosters a safe environment to make mistakes and self correct behaviours. Similarly, play teaches self care skills such as dressing and eating when playing with tea sets, dolls and pretend food.
Subconsciously, play assists with motor planning, fine and gross motor movements. Through play, children perfect and coordinate large body movements, as well as small movements of the hands and fingers. Fine motor skills are essential for performing every day tasks such as feeding, dressing and academic skills e.g. handwriting and scissor skills(Kid sense, 2018). These skills are developed through using lego, dressing dolls, creating puzzles as well as arts and crafts.
Gross motor skills are those requiring whole body movements and larger muscle groups to perform every day functions such as sitting, standing and walking (Kid sense, 2018). They are developed through games such as hop scotch, catching and throwing, swimming and obstacle courses. Evidently, these forms of play help develop strength and endurance required to manage daily activities.
Autism Services. (2012). A Parent’s Guide: Teaching Play Skills to Children with Autism Autism [Ebook] (pp. 1-40). Ontario: Erinoa Kids Centre for Treatment and Development. Retrieved from https://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/media/EOK_Documents/Autism_Resources/Teaching-Play-Skills.pdf
Bodrova, E. & Leong, D. J. (2005). Uniquely preschool: What research tells us about the ways young children learn. Educational Leadership, 63(1), 44-47.
Kid Sense. (2018). Play Skills - Kid Sense Child Development. Retrieved from https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/play-and-social-skills/play-skills/
Lester, S. & Russell, S. (2008). Play for a change. Play policy and practice: A review of contemporary perspectives. Play England. Retrieved 21.6.2010 from http://www.worldleisure. org/pdfs/Copy%20of%20book_rev_play_for_change.pdf
Rymanowicz. (2015). The power of play – Part 1: Stages of play. Retrieved from http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/the_power_of_play_part_1_stages_of_play