The Potential of Play
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PARENTS often criticise children for wanting to play. They say, ‘You play too much, pick up yuh book.’ At puberty (11-13 years old), if a child still runs around with younger children playing in the yard, jumping over fences, or playing hopscotch, parents say, ‘A big child like you running in and out with these small children? You best find something else fuh do.’ But is there something wrong with a child of any size wanting to play?

There is a time for everything and children should not be playing if they have responsibilities to take care of or chores to be done. But neither should they be discouraged when they do play. Did you know that playing is a natural and pleasant way for children to keep active? It also promotes a good sense of well-being and contentment.

Parents do not have to force children to play or reward them for playing, children have an in-built desire to play around and have fun. Although the type of play and the purpose will change as they grow, let them play as long as they are gainfully entertained and are suitably monitored by adults. Playing contributes to their healthy development.

For children to benefit fully from play, they should be allowed to choose how they play; there is no need for play to be structured. In playschool and nursery settings a variety of playthings are provided to children and play areas where they can use their imagination and create their fun. Wherever possible, parents at home should do the same.

Children from birth to teenagers should have the opportunity and resources to devise their play. It is a simple measure to provide for children, which improves their mental and physical development immensely – through play, children learn valuable life skills.

Children learn a lot about themselves and the world around them through play. They learn critical thinking, problem-solving and discover their interests and capabilities. Toddlers find out how things work while putting them together (puzzles, building blocks etc.), and they learn pretty early about cause and effect. (e.g. if I push this button, the bell goes ding dong). During play, they build their memory, vocabulary, abilities and understanding. They also learn how to interact with their peers and adults.

Some children are naturally more inquisitive than others, and it can be frustrating when a child is always asking questions. But asking questions is a good trait; if parents do not know the answer, they should admit the same and look up the answer, for or with the child. Children should be encouraged to explore and learn new things.

When children ask questions, many parents tell them, ‘yuh too fast,’ meaning they are nosey – especially if a truthful answer may embarrass the adult. Some parents do not recognise that the prying child has a thirst for knowledge. Knowledge is never too much; questions can be answered in a child-friendly manner, appropriate to the child’s age. As the child grows parents can expand on content accordingly. A welcoming approach is far better than rebuking a child for his/her curiosity.

When young children are left alone to play outside, they might do things such as dig up dirt and pretend it is food. All the time, they are in their little world. They may put the soil in a little cup, mix it around and soon they will invite ‘a friend’ to come for dinner. Outwardly they are playing, passing the time and having fun. Inwardly, they are developing their creativity, imagination, and socio-emotional skills. Children can imitate (during play) an entire scenario based loosely upon what they have observed from the life around them.

Older children (among peers and siblings) prefer games to test their skills, whether at a board game (drafts or chess) or outdoor sport such as cricket or football. If older children have fun playing with the younger ones, that is okay, as long as the games are appropriate and the older children are trustworthy. Children should not be left unsupervised for long periods; adults should always be present in the vicinity to keep a watchful eye.

Reading to children can be a fun activity that evolves as children grow. It is pretty normal to introduce books to babies when they are a few months old. Showing a suitable picture book to a six-month-old will stimulate some cognitive development, and after a while, the child will get used to the words associated with the pictures. Although babies will not get the hang of books and stories for some time to come, it is a start in the right direction. In time, children can participate because they know some of the words – this will help develop their intellectual and language skills.

Parents should not limit their child’s ability, pigeonhole them or restrain them from playing, but encourage play-based activities from which they can learn. Skills needed for study, work and relationships can be honed through the freedom of play and sharing books with children. Other ways of promoting positive development while having fun with children include singing, acting, dancing and sports. These feel-good activities enhance positive development physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. Remember all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at childcaregy@gmail.com
A MESSAGE FROM THE CHILDCARE AND PROTECTION AGENCY,
MINISTRY OF HUMAN SERVICES AND SOCIAL SECURITY

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