Keep these 10 benefits of play in mind.
Play is the best way for children to …
- realize their potential
- develop their talents
- reduce stress
- exercise creativity
- train for life
So, what are the benefits of playing games? There are many, but let’s focus on 10 to keep in mind both at school and at home, for children under the age of 8.
Teachers can confirm that after recess children come back to class with happy, rested faces, and they improve their behavior. On the playground, they forget about their problems and rest after spending time concentrating. Having this time of rest and relaxation helps them focus on their subjects after the break is over.
2Exploring, problem solving, and decision making
A classroom cannot replace a forest with a stream kids can wade through, with ground populated with worms and flowers, and with breezes and rain kids can enjoy or seek shelter from. This exploration, recognition of the biodiversity and complexity of the great outdoors, and direct experimentation is beyond compare. Schools know this, and often make it part of their program to help kids have direct contact with nature, and camping and hiking are often part of family life.
Children also suffer from stress due to adversity, fatigue and—sometimes—conflict at school and at home. Children tolerate parental conflict poorly, and notice when they aren’t taken into account. If you see that your children are always in a bad mood or constantly depressed, you need to identify the cause and take the necessary steps to resolve the conflict and help them find relief. Play time can help children to take their minds off their troubles; not enough recreation increases their stress.
Forced extracurricular activities can be a source of stress as well. When basic play time isn’t respected, with its corresponding physical activity, children can become grumpier and more reserved. Play is a wonderful way to reduce stress and also gives them a sense of agency. At play, they feel like protagonists.
4Promoting executive functions
Playing games builds working memory, self control, attention, and flexible, creative thought. That is achieved through games that are both fun and challenging. Similar fruits come from learning hobbies and skills such as playing a musical instrument, participating in drama and theater activities, reading, writing, and puzzles and recreational math games. These all have a common denominator: they demand perseverance, self-control, attention, and problem-solving with some degree of precision.
5Imagine creatively, create imaginatively
Imaginative play is an important part of our children’s world. They need to let their imagination soar and then express what they have discovered, created, and imagined using drawings, words, and representations.
Participating in storytelling, reading or leafing through picture books, or visiting a science museum can encourage children to play and enrich their imagination and creativity. They begin to see that the world is full of possibilities. They can think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions at school, and at home, and in the future, at work.
6Improving the parent-child relationship
Play promotes parent/child empathy, and when children are very young, the first meaningful albeit non-verbal interactions between mother and newborn are vital and a source of security. We can’t ignore our children in this stressed and frenetic society that sometimes seems to turn them into obstacles in our path.
We must take the time to interact with them, talk to them, get to know them, win their trust, and know what they are like and what concerns them. Play is a privileged encounter between parents and children. Games are an ideal time to educate them. Children often say: “Dad, Mom, look what I’m doing!” They shouldn’t have to see that their parents are more focused on their cell phones than on their children, or are physically or mentally absent from the playground. They must not be left with the feeling that their parents are ignoring them.
It is not a matter of being behind our children at all times: it’s rather a matter of encouraging them to play alone or with friends and cousins so that they can learn about social interaction, rules, self control, etc.
Active children become active adults! Children who participate in physical activity instead of sitting in front of a screen (TV, cell phones, tablets) are more active as they grow up. Encourage your children to get up and get going with some form of physical activity instead of remaining sedentary. Habits of early childhood play will last and will improve their overall well-being as adults.
In order for kids to know how to respect their peers, they have to learn to read and accept their feelings. They learn through play to be sensitive to the feelings of others and to negotiate, cooperate, and adjust to others by reading expressions, discovering attachments, understanding attitudes, and adapting to different situations, including the need to sacrifice their own preference sometimes. This is where friendship and the ability to live together are born.
9It makes them sociable
They learn how to play well and to be a team player. They learn how to share tasks with friends, and how to lead, as well as how to follow someone who can be an effective leader. It is about listening, limiting oneself, taking initiative, and respecting rules. If children know how to play cooperatively, collaborate, wait, respect their peers, and control their tempers, they’ll know how to form successful work teams in the future.
Childhood is the age to have fun and enjoy life. Simply put, it’s about training for life by having a lot of fun playing! Play can help them form strong relationships with their siblings, friends, cousins, and above all, with their parents. Make sure your children have other kids to play with. Choose toys and games wisely, and keep screens to a minimum. Lastly, make sure you go out with your kids and engage in physical activity, interacting sustainably with nature.
Since you are here…
…we’d like to have one more word with you. We are excited to report that Aleteia’s readership is growing at a rapid rate, world-wide! Our team proves its mission every day by providing high-quality content that informs and inspires a Christian life. But quality journalism has a cost and it’s more than ads can cover. We want our articles to be accessible to everyone, free of charge, but we need your help. To continue our efforts to nourish and inspire our Catholic family, your support is invaluable. Become an Aleteia Patron today for as little as $3 a month. May we count on you?