Advice Column, Toddler, Toptots

When can I go and play, Mommy?

Play is the single most important activity in a child’s day. Children achieve 90% of their learning through play. 

Through play our little ones are making sense of the new experiences they are encountering on a daily basis. Furthermore, our little ones are learning to understand and process the complex emotions attached to these experiences by ‘acting them out’ in a neutral medium, where they are more in control of the outcomes, through play. 

Play is also incredible socially reinforcing, allowing our little ones a safe and contained environment in which to learn and practise their developing skills of sharing, turn-taking, coping with disappointment, winning, losing, leading and following. Our children are practising their imitation skills, practising their roles and responsibilities within relationships, extending their vocabulary, learning valuable problem solving skills, and categorising information and experiences into their current understanding of the world. 

And yet society nowadays is so quick to move children into an academic context, with Preschools offering Grade 000 classes in an attempt to formalise your 3-4 years olds’ education. Parents are exposing children to 2-3 extra-murals a day, five days a week from the age of 3 years old, and families are spending a large proportion of their time in front of the TV or computer. Where, in all of this, does the play fit in? 

Toys are also becoming more and more complex, leaving very little part for the child to play in the process apart from pushing a button, sitting back and observing. Cardboard-box cars and houses have been replaced with miniatures of the real thing, and designer outfits prevent our little ones from the fabulous sensory experiences of sand and water play.

As parents it is imperative that we encourage play throughout our children’s day, right up to formal schooling days (Grade 1) and beyond. In an older school going child, play is vital for their leisure time, down time and relaxing time away from all the hustle and bustle of their busy school day. 

As much as your child may enjoy extra-mural activities, and benefit greatly from the skills they learn in these activities, we should caution against overloading our children’s schedules with multiple extra murals a day, and be extremely careful not to use these extra murals to replace play. Young children have the rest of their lives to hone their skills and become proficient in sports, chess, drama and ballet, it is not imperative that they become skilled to a professional level by the age of 5. In our uber-competitive society, we convince ourselves that in order to be the best parents, we need to offer our children access to all these activities and more from an incredibly early age, convincing ourselves that they really enjoy them. However, often many of the hours spent engaged in these activities our child would far have preferred to be spending this time simply playing. 

Children really only require the basics in order to play their hearts out – a wide open space, some loving supervision and the freedom to follow their hearts desires and go wherever their imagination leads them. So come on Mommy, let me play!

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