Why is play so important for children?
It is now widely accepted that play is fantastic for children's overall development. When it comes to concentration and learning physical skills, play is a great motivator for babies and children.
Even very young children will work hard to achieve something if they are enjoying their play - you only have to look at a baby under a baby gym to see this.
From ages two or three, we can also see that play helps children to socialise with each other. They may dress up together or play simple games.
Playing together also helps children to practise their language skills and skills of negotiation, and is good for developing their creativity and self-expression. These latter skills are sometimes undervalued, but they are important for children's well-being and their ability to problem-solve.
How should I encourage my children to play?
Playing with their parents helps children to get attention and to feel special. This, in turn, can help with their behaviour.
There are perhaps just two golden rules when it comes to playing with your children. The first is, follow their interests. This might mean pretending to drink cups of tea with a two year old or helping a four year old to make a den in the garden. The second is to let children take the lead in play. Where you feel your child needs a hand, offer your help rather than dive in.
In addition to these golden rules, it is worth knowing that how much and how you play with your child may change as they get older.
Children under three years old
Most children under three enjoy playing with an adult and may find it hard to play with other children. Playing with an adult helps the baby and young children to learn about taking turns and reading other's expressions. With babies and toddlers, try games such as peep-bo and rolling a ball.
Children from three to five years old
As children develop more language, they will start to play with other children, which is obviously good for their social skills. It is worth being on hand, though, to support them when there are squabbles. Children in this age group will also enjoy the time and attention of an adult.
Look out for simple games such as snap and skittles, as well as construction activities or making a cake with them.
As well as playing with adults and other children, it can be good for children to play alone because it helps them to be imaginative and self-reliant.
If you see your child is happily playing alone, step back and then talk to them afterwards about what they were doing.