Children need to play. Jean Piaget, one of the most influential researchers in the study of children, called play a “child’s work”. When they play, they aren’t just wasting time, they are learning. Play is necessary for children to develop their cognitive, physical, social and emotional health. Play is one of the most basic ways parents can interact with their child, whether they are playing peek-a-boo with their infant or tossing a football with their teenager. Play is considered so important, that it is listed as a basic right in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When children play, they are learning. As they play with Legos, Tinker Toys, puzzles, string beads, or manipulate other small objects, they are developing fine motor control. When they run, jump, climb, skip, crawl and tumble, they are developing large muscle control. As they play games of make-believe they develop their imagination. They improve their language skills, cooperation and conflict resolution skills. Cutting with scissors isn’t just wasting paper, it is encouraging creativity. Finger painting is a better method of self-expression than playing with one’s food. When children sing, they develop auditory skills. When they dance, they develop balance. When young children do just about anything, they learn from it. They are making sense of their world as they interact with their environment.
Basic toys include wood blocks, dolls and doll clothes, tricycles, roller skates, jump ropes, dress-ups, books (plain old library books are great, not read-to-me-Elmo, read-to-me-Barney or read-to-me-Sponge Bob) Legos or Duplos, puzzles, play dough (commercial or home-made) child-sized dishes and toy kitchen sets, wooden trains, cars, trucks, sand pail and shovel, rubber balls, and lots and lots of art supplies.
When your child has these toys and the time to play with them, you child has everything she needs to learn and develop cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally. That just might be the best gift a parent can give her child!