Parents, caregivers and educators often think of play as the “child’s work.” Unlike “adult work”, children benefit from adult support (scaffolding) to experience rich, flexible and robust play ideas and experiences. Research indicates that “play” is important for healthy brain development, and through their play experiences, children engage and interact with the world.
Parents and caregivers are a child’s first “toy.” Our interactions and responses help a child engage with the world in a caring, responsive, and co-regulated way. Simple reactions to a baby’s sounds, coos and smiles are the foundation for playful engagement. For example, playing simple games such as peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek can help a child begin to anticipate, sequence, and have some control of their experiences.
Toys are important for exploration and the development of representational and symbolic play. Playtime with toys, games, books and peers lead to important problem solving skills. However, parents, caregivers and peers continue to be an important part of the foundation for growth. It is through shared ideas that a child develops and grows toward higher levels of cognitive thought.
Play allows a child to use their creativity while developing imagination as well as cognitive, emotional, and physical strengths. Play can also give children mastery over difficult feelings through a safe world of make believe. These feelings are normal. It is the adult who can acknowledge the feelings and then help in a safe way to incorporate them into play. The child feels powerful and safe because of the adult’s support and limit setting.
The narratives we help our children build from infancy help them to engage in a robust way with their world. It is important to support their imagination and to help them develop the social back and forth skills needed in play, in relationships, and in learning.
Educator and Developmental Therapist
Beth Osten & Associates, Pediatric Therapy Services