The Importance of Play

The importance of play is well documented in early childhood literature. This importance is attached to the functions of play in assisting children to:

  • express thoughts and ideas
  • demonstrate emotions and understand feelings
  • develop thinking and reasoning
  • build relationships
  • understand and make sense of the world.

Play offers opportunity to learn, grow and develop across all domains including social, cognitive, physical and spiritual. Play is a fundamental tool for children and access to play has been acknowledged as an important human right through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

At the corner stone of play is the opportunity to develop, maintain and sustain meaningful relationships. In the wake of recent events this has never been more important. As we find ourselves locked down in our homes, isolated from community and networks we are reliant on finding ways in which to nurture our own wellbeing at the same time as our children.

In times of crisis and uncertainty play becomes a critically important tool for children and adults in order to construct and reconstruct their understand of what is happening, why it is happening and what does it all mean? Play has never been more important as we find ourselves forced into lockdown, physically distancing and managing new uncertainties of how long will this go on for and how long can I do this for? Play is a meaningful device for both children and adults.

The very nature of play invites a multitude of languages from which participants can pick and choose according to their likes, dislikes and strengths. Languages of play include speaking, moving, showing, looking, pointing, singing, painting, sculpting, making, constructing and many more. Play experiences to support these languages include:

  • splashing water, making waves, e.g. bath time, water tubs, doing the dishes
  • drawing, painting, making, cooking
  • constructing, building e.g. LEGO, blocks, sticks, puzzles, cubby houses
  • talking, telling, saying, singing e.g. stories, dressing up, puppets, plays, music
  • problem solving e.g. board games, hide and seek, puzzles
  • moving e.g. dancing, exercise and sports

For children where all or some of these languages are not accessible then enjoyment and understanding can come from watching others play and responding through smiling, speaking, seeing, watching, hearing and knowing. Play experiences are a means to provide active care to children and ourselves, they can provide relief from discomfort and immediate and lasting connections to support health, wellbeing and development.

Engaging in play with children and co-constructing new meaning relives the burden from the adult to ‘fix’ or ‘make better’ situations that are beyond their control. Play experiences offer the opportunity to engage in true acceptance of the current situation and sit in the uncomfortability of not knowing. Of being truly present in the company of another and through this process making memories together; developing ideas, thoughts and new understandings. Play offers unlimited access to different ways of doing and in these uncertain times can bring some comfort through releasing the need to go back to ‘normal’. Watching a child in the experience of play is mesmerising and enchanting. There is so much to be learned and so much to be gained from playing more, expressing more and fixing less.

Consider for a moment what does play look like for you and your family? How can you play more today?