Why PLAY is important

Play is central to your child’s learning and development. When your child plays, it gives them many different ways and times to learn. Play also helps your child: build confidence, feel loved, happy and safe, understand more about how the world works, develop social skills, language and communication, learn about caring for others and the environment, develop physical skills.

It’s important for children to have plenty of different types of play experiences. This includes unstructured and structured play, indoor and outdoor play, solo and group play, craft and creative play, and so on. When children get variety, it’s good for all aspects of their learning and development – physical, social, emotional and imaginative.

Different types of play: unstructured and structured

Unstructured, free play is unplanned play that just happens, depending on what takes your child’s interest at the time. Unstructured, free play is particularly important for younger children because it lets them use their imagination and move at their own pace. Examples of unstructured play might be creative play alone or with others, including artistic or musical games, imaginative games – for example, making cubbyhouses with boxes or blankets, dressing up or playing make-believe, exploring new or favourite spaces like cupboards, backyards, parks, playgrounds and so on.

You can be part of your child’s unstructured play. But sometimes all you’ll need to do is point your child in the right direction – towards the jumble of dress-ups and toys on their floor, or to the table with crayons and paper. At other times, you might need to be a bit more active. For example, ‘How about we play dress-ups? What do you want to be today?’

Structured play is organised and happens at a fixed time or in a set space. It’s often led by a grown-up. Older children are more likely to enjoy and benefit from structured play. Examples of structured play include: outdoor ball games like kicking a soccer ball, water familiarisation classes for toddlers or swimming lessons for older children, storytelling groups for toddlers and pre-schoolers at the local library, dance, music or drama classes for children of all ages, family board or card games, modified sports for slightly older children, like Cricket Blast, Aussie Hoops basketball, NetSetGO netball, Come and Try Rugby and Auskick football.

How play develops with children As your child grows, their attention span and physical skills develop and the way they play will change. Your child will get more creative and experiment more with toys, games and ideas. This might mean they need more space and time to play. Also, children move through different forms of play as they grow. This includes playing alone, playing alongside other children and playing interactively with other children.

Toddlers: play ideas to encourage development
Here are some ideas your toddler might enjoy: Large and light things like cardboard boxes, buckets or blow-up balls can encourage your child to run, build, push or drag. Chalk, rope, music or containers can encourage jumping, kicking, stomping, stepping and running. Hoops, boxes, large rocks or pillows are good for climbing on, balancing, twisting, swaying or rolling. Dress-up games with scarves, hats and so on are good for imagination and creativity. Hills, tunnels or nooks can encourage physical activities like crawling, climbing and exploring. If you put on some favourite music while your toddler plays, they can also try out different sounds and rhythms. You might also like to sing, dance and clap along to music with your child.

Pre-schoolers: play ideas to encourage development
Here are some ideas to get your pre-schooler’s mind and body going: old milk containers, wooden spoons, empty pot plant containers, sticks, scrunched-up paper, plastic buckets, saucepans and old clothes are great for imaginative, unstructured play. Simple jigsaw puzzles and matching games like animal dominoes can improve your child’s memory and concentration. Playdough and clay help your child develop fine motor skills. Favourite music or pots and pans are great for dancing or making music. Balls can encourage kicking, throwing or rolling. When you’re encouraging your child to kick or throw, see whether you can get them to use one side of their body and then the other. School-age children: play ideas to encourage development

Your school-age child can have fun with the following objects and activities: Furniture, linen, washing baskets, tents and boxes are great for building cubbyhouses. Home-made obstacle courses can get your child moving in different ways, directions and speeds. Games like ‘I spy’ are great for word play. They also develop literacy skills. Simple cooking and food preparation activities are great for developing science, numeracy, literacy and everyday skills. Your child’s own imagination can turn your child into a favourite superhero or story character. If your child is interested, you could think about getting them into some sports or team activities for school-age children. Other possibilities include after-school or holiday art and craft activities.

Source: Raisingchildren.net.au. (2022). Why play is important. Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/guides/first-1000-days/play/why-play-is-important