Children play and play and play and they love playing. Which is great because the more they play the more they learn. Play is a child’s occupation, it is the activity that they do most of the time and what they feel driven to do, just like we as adults are driven by our passion for our work, our hobby, our family, our sport etc. All animals and in particular mammals ‘play’ during their childhood. While the time of childhood varies per species, they all play as a part of development.
Playing is so important for children and they learn so much through play. Their development from baby through toddlerhood is mostly mastered, their sensory systems are still developing and can still be quite ‘sensitive’ or ‘under-receptive’ depending on the individual and this can be seen in their play, their movement, their interaction with others and their environment and also when starting to do activities that require more concentration and fine motor skills. There are different types of play too. Some types of play; the child will require mostly their imagination and they will have a limited amount of toys or equipment; another play involves toys or items similar to what represents something like a toy or object/person; there is structured play, unstructured play, imitation play, role playing etc.
There are lots of different ways that adults can play with their children too to better communicate, build better relationships, and become part of their world that can assist with their development. I think this last point is a very big point to consider if you are a parent or an educator or therapist that works with a child (it is not necessarily going to work in a classroom setting) but becoming part of ‘their’ world to learn about ‘them’ can teach us more than ‘us’ expecting them to fit into an adult world.
Given that play is a child’s ‘occupation’ we need to be careful how much we impede them ‘playing’. Kids that are booked every day into organised activities quite often don’t get enough time to play or have unstructured play and this can be seen in emotional outbursts and temper tantrums, extreme tiredness, withdrawn disposition. They may be frustrated because they cannot verbally express themselves why they feel the way they do but they may play it out with toys, with their own actions, with other children and/or adults. As children move through childhood their play changes and represents different things. I do think at the present time in society our children don’t have enough time for playing, they are expected to be partaking in very adult type activities with a childlike adaptation, and I wonder what this will look like in their generation as adults. The diagram below shows how play is a child’s work just like in previous posts with a similar diagrams shows ‘me’ as the adult and work/play as a separate activity of a person’s life. There are many activities that make up our lives and for children play is part of that. Sorry about the ‘chopped’ diagram, my graphic arts is not my strongest skill!
Another question to consider is whether ‘play’ and ‘sport’ are the same, are their purposes the same. I would say no, however, particular types of kids as they get older find that they like ‘playing’ and all their playing is ‘sport’, but in terms of other children they may still just want to play the way they chose and I think in terms of maintaining a child’s physical and mental health, a decent amount of play (unstructured) is definitely required. Consider it like an adult ‘choosing’ what they want to do for a living or a hobby, whatever that choice is, is an expression of that person to themselves and to the world, I would see what children ‘choose’ to play (any type of play) as that expression.
In terms of exercise, I think that it is a different area of health from play and putting the two together are not allowing children to ‘play’ and develop properly. I think that children like adults need to participate in exercise and sport to maintain their individual health and wellbeing, however, sport should not only be considered as play and therefore it is worth considering that ‘free play’ needs to be allowed as well as structured type play/sport.
Children that have been through trauma or through difficulties in terms of health or life will sometimes show different types of play or withdraw from play. It is important to recognise this so that it can be addressed with the child, the family, the school by the appropriate treating professionals.
So, play can tell us a lot about children and a lot about adults and society today and I could write one hundred posts about play itself but I think the take-home message to consider: Do we allow our children enough time to ‘play’ as their main occupation, and how can we make time to allow them to ‘play’ enough. There is no right or wrong answer to this question however, it something that needs to be considered on a much bigger picture.
Have a great day.
PS If you have any concerns about your child’s play please contact a Paediatric Occupational Therapist, a Psychologist that specialises in children, some educators have a vast insight into the play of children too so check with them. If you need to drop me a line go to the Contact section and ask away.