WRITTEN BY SALLY HILLS-DAVIS, OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST AND KIRSTY BROCKLEHURST, PHYSIOTHERAPIST. FOUNDERS OF THE PRACTICAL CHILD
As children’s therapists we think of play as a child's main occupation. Through play children begin to be creative and use their imagination as well as developing their small and large movements. In addition to this it enhances their cognitive and emotional strength which helps them to develop a sense of self.
The bottom line is that play is serious learning and the great thing about it is that for both children and adults it is just great fun. Who wouldn’t want to run around the woods playing hide and seek or sitting down on a rainy day with paints and a brush?
The new World Health Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under 5 years of age state ‘children under five must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality of sleep and have more time of active play’.
Play at times can seem like a chore, but in truth, giving your children ideas to play can be easier than you think. Young children are happy playing with cardboard boxes and pots and pans. As they get older making camps over chairs or under tables, using sheets can be as much fun as an expensive toy. Toilet rolls are great to be used for making binoculars by taping two together or for using as a tunnel for cars to go through. I love using discarded cereal packets for our children to use as parking for their cars. Tubes from crisps are great for making into a post box by cutting a slit in the lid so that they can post items in. You can throw them all away when they are fed up with them rather than cluttering your house with discarded toys. It helps the environment too!
When play is allowed to be child driven, children can practice skills such as decision making, make discoveries as to what they like and don’t like, as well as learning at their own pace. When you have a moment, sit and watch your child play, it can be an absolute joy seeing them succeed in something that they have chosen to do.
‘Learning through play, a review of the evidence’ by the Lego foundation stated that there are five characteristics of playful learning experience-
Socially interactive – although it can happen on one’s own, a powerful context is by playing with others. In our job as therapists, we have the pleasure of watching children play and seeing friendships grow even in young babies. It is such a privilege to watch.
Joyful – a sense of pleasure, enjoyment, thrill and positive emotion. This can be from a short experience or over a longer period. Joy can be linked to motivation and interest.
Meaningful- in which children are active participants, taking on active roles alongside their peers and making their own decisions.
Actively engaging- learning through play means being actively engaged. How often do you see your child so immersed in play, that they fail to hear you call them?
Interactive- for a toddler, interactive play can be trying a shape sorter to more advanced play as they get older such as building a structure to see how high they can get it before it falls down.
As adults we can relate to this list. If I chose an activity to do in my free time, I want all these things too. In fact, do we ever stop playing? Let us hope not!