Play activities are essential to healthy development for children and adolescents. Research shows that 75% of brain development occurs after birth. The activities engaged in by children both stimulate and influence the pattern of the connections made between the nerve cells. This process influences the development of fine and gross motor skills, language, socialization, personal awareness, emotional well-being, creativity, problem solving and learning ability.
The most important role that play can have is to help children to be active, make choices and practice actions to mastery. They should have experience with a wide variety of content (art, music, language, science, math, social relations) because each is important for the development of a complex and integrated brain. Play that links sensori-motor, cognitive, and social-emotional experiences provides an ideal setting from brain development.
According to Montessori, the essential dimensions of play are:
- Voluntary, enjoyable, purposeful and spontaneous
- Creativity expanded using problem solving skills, social skills, language skills and physical skills
- Helps expand on new ideas
- Helps the child to adapt socially
- Helps to thwart emotional problems
If play is the work of the child, toys are the tools. Through toys, children learn about their world, themselves, and others. Toys teach children to:
- Figure out how things work
- Pick up new ideas
- Build muscle control and strength
- Use their imagination
- Solve problems
- Learn to cooperate with others
Play content should come from the child’s own imagination and experiences.
Unfortunately, the play experience for today’s child is often quite different from that of their parents.
With the ever expanding influence of electronic media including TV, videos, video games and the internet, child are spending much of their time being passively entertained by or minimally interacting by way of a keyboard or control pad with an electronic device.
Even today’s toys are more often structured by onboard computers that dictate the play experience. This robs children of unstructured play with other kids as well as individual playtime spent in creative play. Parents need to understand the play needs of their child and provide an environment to meet those needs.