Play Is The Way

Child's play is a phrase that describes something that is very simple to accomplish.  However, child's play is actually increasingly complex tasks that have a large impact on a child's social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development. 

Infants play by themselves, called "solitary play."  As toddlers, children typically play side by side, with little interaction, an activity called "parallel play."  At around age three, children's play becomes dramatic, with children able to act out simple roles like daddy and mommy.  By the later preschool years (4 -5)  play becomes more and more complex, with children taking on roles such as astronaut.  While preschoolers may still play by themselves, more and more play time is spent with other children acting out scenarios.  This preschool stage of play is called "sociodramatic play." 

Why is it so important to learn to play with others?  Social withdrawal during these early years is associated with problems in later childhood and adolescence such as loneliness, depression, social anxiety, and even lower academic achievement. 

So how can parents and others who care for children help children become better players?  It's simple - join in!  To help with sociodramatic play, take a role yourself and act it out.  Remember to follow the child's lead as much as possible.  Try not to direct the play, but make simple suggestions"  "Let's see if the baby needs his diaper changed;"  "Let's call Grandma" while holding a block to your ear;" "What should we put in our backpacks to take to school?"

Another way to help with dramatic play is to read books about the roles they like to take on, so children can get ideas on how to expand their play.  Also, you can add "props" related to a child's preferred role play.  An old pair of boots can become astronaut gear or a manila folder might now be a restaurant menu. 

As if helping your child development isn't enough, playing is a great way to reduce stress in the home.  Play helps everyone relax, enjoy family time, and give great memories to share together.