Historically, play has been a significant part of cultures all over the globe, and continues to be a crucial part of childhood for most animals (humans too!). Play helps us develop healthy brains and nervous systems, nurtures our imaginations, develops problem solving skills, resiliency, creativity and pro-social traits and generally, keeps us happy and healthy.
Today we’re going to discuss the evolution of play throughout time and how PLAY is an essential part of a healthy functioning society.
The History and Benefits of Play
Play has always been an integral part of a child’s life, long before we had the scientific knowledge to prove its role in cognitive and emotional development. Its importance makes it more of a rite of passage, than a privilege…one that all children are entitled to.
Play Over the Centuries
Play has a long history. It manifested its presence in prehistoric times in the form of dice, gaming boards, and possibly…football, as some footprints discovered in Namibia suggest. In ancient Greece, the value of play and its fundamental role in child development was discussed by great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Yo-yos, marbles, and knucklebones, which were made from actual sheep legs, were particularly popular games of the time.
The same was true for Rome, where children engaged in various forms of play, from war games and wrestling for the boys to playing with rag dolls for the girls. Even during the Middle Ages, where children were often expected to work, they still managed to play with handmade toys, or acted out stories. During the Renaissance period, ideas like play-based pedagogy and learning through first-hand experience were introduced by famous thinkers of the era.
These ideas were further developed in the centuries that followed. In 1837, the German pedagogue, Froebel, founded the first Kindergarten, where activities like singing and self-directed play took place, and in the early 20th century, the industrial revolution introduced factory-made games such as Monopoly, a version of ‘Life’, and jigsaw puzzles. Playgrounds grew popular too, as urbanization raised concerns regarding the safety of children playing on the streets.
What is the Situation Today?
Although the value of children’s play has been proven through scientific research, our current lifestyle is posing a threat to children’s play. In many developed countries, parents have limited time to play with their kids because of demanding jobs and long hours commuting. What’s even more concerning, is that kids themselves have limited time to play due to their overpacked heavy schedules, resulting from a mindset that wants children to be “set for success” early on.
Play deprivation, though, not only threatens healthy child development but is also a major cause of childhood depression and obesity. Another issue is that parents are reluctant to leave their kids to play outside unattended, especially in urbanized countries. Children now play in ‘safer’ environments, like their home or play spaces, constantly monitored by their parents.
But there is a simple solution to all this: unburden and simplify your own and your children’s schedules. The quality time you’ll spend playing together will strengthen your bond and put a smile on your faces. And remember, minimise the helicopter-parenting! Children should be able to explore a game and make decisions on their own to reap all the benefits of play such as building confidence in their choices, problem-solving, and a sense of agency in the world – all part of growing a healthy brain and well-balanced personality.
Benefits of Play for Child Development
Play comes in many forms ranging from physical play (e.g. climbing, dancing, wrestling) to socio-dramatic play or games with rules. It can be a solitary activity or performed in groups, indoors or outdoors. Whatever the case, its contribution to child development is priceless. Here are just some ways play helps to build healthy, well integrated brains:
- Enhances cognitive, emotional and social skills: Most playing activities promote several skills at once, often in ways you wouldn’t expect. Construction play, for example, enhances creativity and concentration. But did you know it also helps develop perseverance and a positive attitude towards challenges? Likewise, a simple “pretend” play where two doll friends are drinking imaginary tea boosts not only imagination but also social and language skills
- Boosts self-esteem: Successfully completing a puzzle or climbing a tree makes your child feel more confident about themselves and their abilities.
- Relieves stress and aggression: From mild stress to severe trauma, play is a great way for kids to forget what’s troubling them and let some steam off. This is why play therapy is the most developmentally appropriate support for children. To find out about our clinical play therapy programs for children and families click here
- Builds strength and endurance: Physical activities like riding a bike or playing in the playground help children build a strong body, maintain a healthy weight and, most importantly, adopt an active lifestyle that they will most likely follow as adults too
- Promotes independence: Children discover the world and themselves through play. They learn to communicate effectively, control their emotions, make decisions, and solve problems
Throughout history, a child’s play has always been respected, even when times were tough. The fast pace of life today shouldn’t come between your child and their precious playtime. Before signing them up for another after-school structured activity, pause for a second and think if that’s what they really need.
If behavioural symptoms, trauma or stress are creating chaos in your family you may want to consider you may want to consider taking one of our Building Better Brains parenting support courses or online workshops.
Working together we can build better brains!