The role of play in early childhood development is incredibly important, and is most simply described in the adage “play is the work of children.” Playing with parents or caregivers promotes a bond between the child and adult, making young children feel secure. It also aids in developing a child’s cognitive abilities and his or her understanding of the world. Participating in games or playing with toys are also some of the primary ways that a child learns how to interact with others, whether children or adults.
Developing a secure bond with parents or caregivers is one of the most important things that result from play in early childhood. Even before a child is able to talk, playing with an adult or caregiver provides him or her with a way to communicate, and allows the adult to teach the child. This experience typically helps to build on the trust that begins with a parent or caregiver providing a child with all of his or her physical needs, such as clothing, food, and human contact. Playing with an adult also helps to increase a child’s feeling of importance in his or her home, improving his or her self-esteem, and, ultimately, willingness to try things independently.
Young children develop the vast majority of their cognitive abilities from playing. From the first time they reach out and grab a toy to figuring out how to build a tower that will not fall, the role of play in early childhood development is vastly important for teaching a child how to think both logically and imaginatively. By interacting with adults, other children, and independently, play can give a child a safe way to figure out how to achieve the results that he or she desires and to act out what he or she imagines in his or her head.
Children also learn much about their environment through play. Handling different objects and working with them helps to give children something tangible to explore, allowing them to transfer this understanding to things that are currently outside of their reach later in life. For example, building with blocks can help children to understand how their homes or other buildings are constructed, without actually showing them how to build a real house. It can also help a child experience and test out how two or more objects can interact with one another.
Other than interacting with objects and the physical world around them, the role of play in early childhood development is also important for teaching children how to relate with other people. Playing teaches children how to share, how to communicate, and how to express their desires to other people. It is also the primary way that children learn how to interact with peers. Games, free play, and activities can teach children how to negotiate between their own wants and another person’s, essential for functioning in a group setting and other basic social skills.