Friday, May 22, 2009

Play is a Child's Work

The many hours that infants and children spend in play are by no means wasted or merely recuperative in nature. Play may be fun but it is serious business in childhood. During these hours, the child steadily builds up his competence in dealing with his environment. A child who is born into this world is like a special sponge - bursting with an inner desire to absorb, explore and find out more about the environment into which he is born.

Play is a course of exploration and discovery, which occupies the most part of a child's play. It only stops when he is asleep. In essence, PLAY IS A CHILD'S WORK.

Like a working adult who learns to solve problems in the work place in order to get the work done, the child learns on a small scale through play the skills necessary for being part of his new environment.

Play influences the physical, mental, social, psychological, emotional and linguistic developments of the child.

Physical Development

As a child crawls, pulls to stand, walks and runs, he experiences movement. This movement will facilitate the development of more complex physical coordination such as being able to use both hands in a particular activity, for instance running. Hence, the child is required to coordinate the swinging movements between the hands and legs.

From the 3rd month of the child's life, he initiates movement from the shoulder and elbow. However, in these early stages, such movements are limited to inaccurate swiping and hitting. As the child plays with smaller and more complex toys, he begins to develop the function in the hands.

Play also develops the muscles and strength in the upper and lower limbs.

Mental Development

In imaginative play, a child may pretend to be a nurse, doctor or a fireman. He may also pretend to cook, sew or have a tea party with his friends. Such imaginative play stimulates the thinking of the child. This will in turn prepare him for more complex learning situations when he is older.

Social Development

As children play with one another, they develop an idea of the world around them. They will learn that there are certain rules which have to be adhered to. These rules involve socialisation such as taking turns at the slide, making friends, the act of giving and taking, sharing or just being friendly.

Although initially, the child will seem to be egocentric and always concerned about himself, he will learn to develop through the guidance of an adult, preferably the parent.

Psychological Development

A child gains confidence and self-esteem when he plays and experiences fun and success in the process. Confidence encourages further exploration and drives the child to experience more challenging activities. Development of confidence will help him meet challenges as he grows older. The process of meeting these challenges further develops skills.

Emotional Development

Bonding with parents is part of a child's first stage of emotional development. There is no substitute for this stage of development. Parents should be involved as much as possible during play. This will allow the child to experience security in his new environment. With this secure feeling, the child will be more willing to move out to explore the world with the assurance that there is always someone to rely on should things turn sour.

Language Development

Language is the medium by which we translate meanings, our thoughts and feelings. Language development starts from day one of birth. Initial attempts at communication are simple and repetitive. As the child develops physically, the language requirements also increase. Children need words and gestures to express ideas and learn to solve problems as they experience new and varied sensations. Language is a unique and wonderful part of play and distinguishes humans as thinking beings in comparison to animals.

The pre-requisites for language development can be reinforced through play. There are numerous opportunities to encourage the following through play:
  • Eye contact
  • Listening skills
  • The paying of attention
  • The learning to take turns
  • Social interaction skills
It is useful to label objects when introducing new words to the child as it will increase his vocabulary. The meaning of the words are further reinforced by encouraging the child to handle the object.

Learning Other Concepts

Play also helps children learn and understand basic concepts such as numbers, colours, and spatial positions (left/right and in/out).

Such concept development is a crucial starting point in a child's development as it teaches:
  • Interaction between objects - how one object is related to another. For instance, pots and the stove, fork and spoon, a ball and a bat.
  • Interaction with materials. For instance, boiling water is hot, ice is cold, cloth is soft. It helps the child to identify himself with his action and ideas. For instance, if the child does not like the sensation of heat, he may not want to carry the kettle. This gives him greater awareness of what he is capable of doing and teaches him that he can actually do it again.
Understanding the cause and effect relationship. For instance, "If I touch boiling water, I will get burnt." This is the foundation for problem-solving. By solving problems and experiencing and learning the rules about the nature of things, the child learns to adhere to safety rules.

Information provided by KK Hospital - Singapore's Leading Women and Children's Hospital

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