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Cognitive Development through Play

02/07/2013

 

Do we let our children play enough? Probably not. The surprising fact of the matter is that children have so much more to benefit from play than we might think so. It is common for parents to sometimes feel that play is not the best use of time for the child and it could probably be more well-spent on ‘serious’ and useful things like attending extra academic classes or working on assessment books. However, the truth of the matter is that play is important for our children’s development.

 

When children play, a multitude of cognitive skills are being exercised. Besides cognitive skills, physical, emotional and social skills are also being enhanced. Sure, the kids may fight over who gets to be “it”, but it is through these experiences where they learn how to be a leader, a follower, and be more sensitive and responsive to the needs and feelings of others.

 

The cognitive skills that kids engage in during play are aplenty. Depending on the nature of a child’s play, skills such as gross and fine motor (the movement of small and large muscles in the body), working memory (the memory used to keep information immediately in our minds), language (when they role play and speak among themselves), visual processing (when they track objects with their eyes or avoid bumping into things), hand-eye coordination (the coordination of information received through the eyes to direct the hands) amongst others are being enhanced.

 

Perhaps one of the most important skill that play encourages is the executive function skill. This higher level brain skill is the ability to self-regulate. When this part of the brain is well developed, children are able to control their emotions and behaviour and are thus better able to resist impulses.

 

According to research, the best form of play for a child to engage in is free, unstructured playtime, where they are free to exercise their own creativity and create their own rules. This is not to say that parents should not extend their guidance whenever necessary. Guidelines such as safety precautions and behavioural aspects should be communicated to a child to ensure he or she engages in safe and responsible playtime.

 

Although children have schools to attend, homework to do and exams to study for, let’s not forget to structure play into their daily lives. In fact, research has lent insight into how short and frequent spurts of playtime are able to increase a child’s attentiveness towards academic tasks.

 

When allowed to play often, kids flourish by gaining intellectual experiences that they might not be able to get throughacademic drilling and schoolwork. And these intellectual experiences can prove invaluable throughout their lives.

 

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