Wood's Homes Blog

The importance of play in child development

August 08, 2019
By Dr. Michele Wellsby, Research Assistant, Wood’s Homes Research Department
The importance of play in child development

A one-year-old is exploring a basket filled with various swatches of fabric. A five-year-old is playing pretend restaurant with her aunt. An eight-year-old and her friend are working together to build a fort. What do all of these situations have in common? Yes, they are all examples of children playing, but they are also all examples of children engaging in powerful learning and developing their brain through play. Mr. Rogers said that “Play is the work of childhood”, and I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Play is a means through which children can learn new concepts, work through emotions, develop social skills, gain an understanding of others and learn language.

Sensory exploration is the first way children learn about the world around them as they explore and interact with their environment. Sensory play can involve sight, sound, touch, smell, and even taste! Sensory interactions with objects teach children about the properties of objects and as children get older, they can map words to these experiences. Research has shown that sensory and motor experiences are important aspects of children developing an understanding of objects and concepts.

Pretend play, also called imaginative play, introduces the idea that something or someone can represent something or someone else (for example, pretending that a banana is a phone or pretending to be a chef while playing restaurant). Pretend play allows children to develop their oral language skills and try out creative ideas. Additionally, pretend play with others allows children to develop social skills, and gain the understanding that other people can have feelings and thoughts that differ from their own. Pretend play helps children to develop knowledge that they can later bring to reading, school, and friendships.

Caregivers can join in with play to enhance the level of play and support their child’s learning and development. Caregivers can help children acquire knowledge and further develop their language abilities by scaffolding their play. This means that while a child is engaged in play, you can make a suggestion or ask a question that prompts critical thinking and problem solving and brings their understanding to a higher level. In addition to supporting your child’s development, play can help to reduce stress for children and adults of all ages, so don’t feel guilty about taking time to play with your child.

An important thing to note is that play does not need to be expensive. You don’t need to have flashy electronic toys or expensive materials to make play enjoyable. One of my favourite places to find play materials is the recycling bin. You can use boxes to build a city, plastic containers to create a boat and play with water, or cardboard tubes and empty containers to make musical instruments. Use your imagination and get creative with the tools you have on hand for play.

The benefits of play are endless: from gaining sensory knowledge and motor skills to developing self-regulation and the understanding of others perspectives, play is a huge part of child development. Take advantage of the beautiful weather this summer and get outside and play with your child! Explore, build, create, move, and imagine together. If you want to learn more about the importance of play in child development or explore resources to help support you and your child in play, check out these websites: