Research conducted in 2016 by toy giant Lego suggests that parents are cutting down on playtime in favour of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic to better prepare their little ones for an increasingly competitive world. In an article published in the American Journal of Play in 2011, author and psychology professor Peter Gray suggested that this decline is ‘at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children’s activities’. But giving young children the time and space to play is incredibly important to their cognitive development—not just for their professional future, but also for their mental wellbeing. According to Gray, reduced playtime has also been linked to a rise in depression and anxiety in young children.
Playtime or ‘free play’ (unstructured playtime whereby children choose their activities) underpins all aspects of learning. It helps young children develop language and their social, creative and intellectual skills. Left to their own devices, they will initiate imaginative play and—when with their peers—organise activities and games. So how does this further their learning?
Free play is crucial to facilitate and develop problem-solving skills to appropriately handle day-to-day challenges. Children are natural problem-solvers. From birth, a baby will begin to problem-solve by working to grasp objects not in their reach. As they age, their problem-solving skills become more complex. They may be able to solve simple puzzles and use critical thinking to resolve conflicts among their peers.
A large proportion of child’s play includes imaginative or role-play. When this occurs, children tend to subconsciously rehearse and refine the social observations they have made of those around them. Children use this form of play to further understand and cement the lessons they have learnt during their school classes, too. This is also the way in which children develop their language and apply ‘rule-making’ during games and activities. The ability to make and adhere to rules by their own admission is a fascinating phenomenon which sets them up for adulthood.
In the technological age, it is more vital than ever that children participate in playtime. Physical play—including sports—running around or simply moving increases both stamina and strength. With good health, wellbeing and increased energy, children will have the propensity to concentrate better in the classroom, making play a vital component towards their learning.
Did you know?
Children spend around 3-20% of their time and energy engaged in play
Source: Learning Through Play by Peter K. Smith, PhD, Anthony Pellegrini, PhD, 2013