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Why Prioritising Play is Crucial for your Child’s Development

Why Prioritising Play is Crucial for your Child’s Development

March 2024

The importance of play in childhood cannot be overstated. Play is not only a fundamental aspect of childhood but it also plays a crucial role in a child’s overall development - from early years all the way to adolescence.

Experimenting and exploring

Play helps a child develop their cognitive skills by allowing them to explore, experiment and problem solve in an environment safe from the worry of getting things wrong. It allows them to be free to use their imagination and develop their critical thinking. 

Doll Play, in particular, is fantastic for enabling children to experiment with different roles and identities. By pretending to be caregivers, parents or other people in their life, children can explore gender roles, cultural practices and societal norms in a safe and fun way. Playing with toys such as dolls can also help a child practise their fine motor skills (I’m a Children’s Occupational Therapist so I had to get fine motor skills into my first blog!). Think about all those opportunities to button up shirts and dresses or zip up coats - completing fastenings really gets those little fingers working.

Busy schedules

We all recognise the importance of play for our children, but there are several factors that may limit the amount of time they’re allowed to engage in it. This is particularly the case as children grow older and start school, when ‘free play’ continues to be vital for development but the amount of time they spend in structured activities (eg. after school clubs, tutoring) increases. Play remains important for older children and adolescents (although it takes on different forms such  as sports, creative activities, hobbies and socialising with peers), but carving out the time in amongst the lure of digital devices, academic pressures and busy after-school schedules becomes increasingly difficult. Not to mention the safety concerns about letting our children go out and explore on their own.

Don’t get me wrong, even as a play advocate I hold my hand up to not always prioritising it in our busy family life. My 10-year-old daughter has a weekly maths tutor after school as she has Dyscalculia so needs extra support in this area. She is also studying for her year 6 exams most evenings, alongside daily school homework. My 13-year-old son participates in lots of extra clubs as well as regularly practising scripts for his acting - add that to homework and there’s little time to fit in ‘free play’. I currently don’t let him go out with his friends on the weekend due to safety concerns. He’s not pushing this too much at the moment and tends to have friends over instead, but I suspect this might change in the summer holidays!

Games night

After my son turned 13 this month, it really hit me that there isn’t too much time left of his childhood, so I’ve decided to reprioritise play in our lives. I’ve started by introducing a ‘games night’ each Wednesday where the whole family plays games together and absolutely no phones are allowed. It may only last a month or two - there’s normally someone who needs encouragement to play and then someone gets upset if they lose (often my husband!) and apparently I cheat (I do not!), but I’m hoping it may become the new norm. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else, because even as adults play can be beneficial in our increasingly hectic schedules to instil a sense of balance, wellbeing and joy. And who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?


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