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Why Play is Important





Play is more than just fun for kids. It’s how they learn, and how they work out who they are and where they fit in the world.

The basics

Playing is one of the most important things you can do with your child. The time you spend playing together gives your child lots of different ways to learn. It also helps your child to:

  • build confidence
  • feel loved, happy and safe
  • develop social skills, language and communication
  • learn about caring for others and the environment
  • develop physical skills
  • connect and refine pathways in her brain.

Your child will love playing with you, but sometimes he might prefer to play by himself and won’t need so much hands-on play from you. He might just want you to give him ideas and let him know how his play and games are going. Also, the way your child plays will change as he gets older.

Did you know? Running, jumping and throwing are three key skills kids learn to help them have the confidence and ability to participate in physical activity and sport as they grow. Unstructured or free play is the best type of play for young children. This is play that just happens, depending on what takes your child’s interest at the time. It isn’t planned and lets your child use her imagination and move at her own pace.

Examples might be:

  • creative play alone or with others – including artistic or musical games
  • imaginative games – making play houses with boxes or blankets, dressing up, playing make-believe
  • exploring new or favourite play spaces – cupboards, backyards, parks, playgrounds and so on.

You can be part of your child’s unstructured play or not. Sometimes all you’ll need to do is point him in the right direction – towards the pile of toys on his floor, or to the table with crayons and paper. Sometimes you might need to be a bit more hands on. For example, "How about we play dress-up? What do you want to be today?"

Structured play is different. It’s more organized and occurs at a fixed time or in a set space, and is often led by a grown-up.

Examples include:

  • swimming lessons
  • storytelling groups
  • dance, music or drama classes family board or card games


Here are some ideas to get your preschooler’s mind and body going:

  • old milk containers, wooden spoons, empty plant containers, sticks, scrunched-up paper, plastic buckets, saucepans and old clothes – your child can use these for imaginative, unstructured play
  • favourite CDs or pots and pans – your child can use these for a dance concert or to make up music
  • balls and frisbees – these can encourage practice in fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping and throwing. When encouraging your child to kick or throw, try to get him to use one side of his body, then the other.

If your child doesn’t want to play

There might be times when your child doesn’t want to play – for example, she could be tired or bored by doing the same activity for too long. This is normal and usually nothing to worry about.

But sometimes a lack of play – or a lack of interest in play – can be a sign of a more serious developmental disorder. Consider speaking with your doctor if your preschooler isn’t interested in playing with other children, or playing pretend games.

© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
Last Updated: November 30, 2014