Creative play is an important part of child development. Through play, kids learn about and experiment with the world around them and learn to understand and express their own thoughts and emotions. Child development researchers have found that play benefits kids in many significant ways.
Pretending helps kids develop their imaginations. Children begin to pretend around the age of 2. When they use an object to represent something else, kids learn about symbolism. They can assume a variety of roles, from superhero to police officer to princess, and experiment with different identities. Kids can also learn to work through issues they are facing in their lives, such as a frightening or confusing situation. For example, kids might role play about a trip to the dentist or practice taking care of a doll to be prepared to help care for a new sibling.
Creative play helps children develop social skills. Toddlers often play side by side with little interaction, but in preschool kids begin to play together more. They learn to negotiate, cooperate, and share through play. Play can help children deal with different or confusing emotions and learn how to deal with situations and conflicts appropriately. You can encourage your child’s social development by scheduling play dates with other children and watching how the kids interact with each other.
Play helps kids develop physical skills, such as gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Kids who play are also less likely to be stressed and cranky. You can encourage physical play by setting a good example and engaging in activities at home and outdoors with your child.
You can encourage your child to play and think creatively by making a collection of toys and objects available. Kid-friendly versions of objects that adults use, such as dishes and telephones, allow kids to act out adult scenarios. Open-ended objects that can be used for more than one purpose allow kids to think creatively and explore different possibilities.
Let your child take the lead during play. You can become involved, but only if your child wants you to do so. Give your child control and encouragement and show that the game is interesting and important to you. This will build your child’s confidence and self-esteem.