Let them play: The importance of play in child development

Let them play: The importance of play in child development

Read about the importance for self-directed play and the role of guided play in the development of young children...

Child-directed play is when children choose what to play and make up their own rules on how to play. This particular type of play is critical to a child’s learning and well-being.

Although it is an established fact through numerous research on early childhood that children learn best through play, it is also very true for older children and adults as well. Learning is best when having fun.

When as parents we see children playing, it may seem like they are “just having fun”, but their playing is instrumental to them learning life skills and developing cognitive functions which then become the building blocks of higher cognitive development.

the importance of play in child development

Sometimes, child-directed exploratory play doesn’t always look like fun. In fact, it is often when children are most engaged in their own self-motivated, self-directed play that they look most serious. This is because they are totally immersed in the engagement of that particular activity which keeps them focus and in the moment.

When children play they develop language skills, social interaction skills, physical skills, and creativity. Children may play on their own, with other children, and with or without objects. In self-directed play, children direct the action. They are in control. They create roles, stories, scenes, be whatever characters they choose. They choose to repeat their actions, create new ones, all at their own pace.

Self-directed play is empowering in that it puts the child in the driver’s seat and children feel powerful and free to imagine being someone or something else. Through this process of imagining, children work through their emotions as they re-enact experiences, are able to transform their feelings into actions in an imagined situation intuitively drawing from past experiences. They develop their imagination and creativity and are original in their thinking and ideas for stories, games, and characters.

The whole concept behind self-directed play is about the process of doing, and the process is liberating and an effective de-stresser!

But you can play with your kids too! Read why and how on the next page!

The importance of play in child development: Guided play

When adults participate in play, it is known as 'guided play'. Guided play is an enabler and allows children to spend focused and quality time with adults.

the importance of play in child development

The interaction during an activity together with the children allows adults to provide children with explanations and assistance understanding concepts and developing skills related to the topic or activity related to the play. By taking an active interest in children's play, adults also make children feel valued and important. The adult in the process of engagement is critical to addressing the curiosity and explorations of the child, and sometimes are equally challenged by questions and ideas proposed by the children!

In drama-based programmes, play is the essence of the programmes as it underpins its very existence.

The role of the drama teacher is to facilitate, so a more apt description is a facilitator or enabler, one who lays the base for exploring and discovering through the use of drama.

It is in this very role of an enabler that the drama teacher provides the proper scaffolding in order to help raise the children’s level of learning and subsequent performance of various tasks. Children are guided in their playing from “within the activity” and extend their playing with the teacher encouraging them with questions, prompting exploration and explanations for stretching a plot or a scenario.

Quite frequently, the guidance is individually-tailored based on the children’s developmental level through the use of hints, modelling and use of physical items such as props.  The drama teacher and the children are co-players in play activities, and sometimes, the children are the mentors and the teacher, the mentee, each providing ideas to the playing.

the importance of play in child development


By far, the most important aspect to any guided play is taking the child’s lead, or cue. Watching what engages and what they children enjoy doing, and responding accordingly, helping the children rather than instructing them. This child-centred collaborative process is transformative in the boosting of children’s playing and learning at higher levels.

Let the children play

Play is important in children’s development. Self-directed play paves it for children to think, choose, imagine, and be creative and original. Imagination and creativity are important for everyone, not just artists. Guided play is important as well. It is not a substitute for, or should be substituted by self-directed play. Children should have a good balance of both.

Children have an instinctive desire to play and find pleasure from it. Our part in the equation is to value that and support it in order to help our children become useful individuals to society.

Also READ: 3 ways dads could play with their kids - without using an iPad!

Read more related articles here: Parenting & Play by Friso

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Written by

Ruby Lim-Yang

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