You may have heard it said that play is vital for a child’s development. Even the American Association of Pediatrics has done studies on the effect of play on cognitive development. They found that play links to social skills, gross and fine motor skills, problem solving, as well as the child’s ability to regulate their own emotions.

It’s obvious that play is important. So why does play so often take a back seat when it comes to a child’s education? Why does traditional learning favor seat work over recess? Tests over imagination? Classrooms over playgrounds? Pressure over pretend?

It’s time to take play back, folks.

It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. It doesn’t require fancy materials or equipment. The thing is, play  happens very naturally in a child’s life. Play is the time they tap into their interests and act out what they are learning. The best part? Play can happen anywhere! In the kitchen, inside, outside, the bath, the car, you name it! Anywhere a child is, play can be happening.

There are two types of play: free play and structured play. Free play is when a child is using their imagination and creativity on their own, playing with open ended toys such as blocks, magna tiles, dress up, and dolls. An open ended toy serves more than one purpose for a child, and allows them to use their creativity. During free play a child chooses what to play with and how to play with it.

Structured play is when the parent or teacher sets the stage for play, and there are specific activities they would like the child to be doing. For example, a sensory bin or an ‘invitation to play’ are structured learning activities that play is embedded into. This could also be practicing spelling words using sidewalk chalk or shaving cream, making words with finger paint, adding colors together and seeing what happens when red and blue mix. Stamping and STEM projects that use different senses and skills through play are also examples of structured play. For structured play time, you would want to isolate the items you want your child to be using, with an emphasis on using senses, motor skills, and problem-solving skills.

Who is play for? Most people might say it’s for younger children, but play is for all children–even teenagers! Their play will look different. A teenager’s play might be being in a band or a sport or hobbies like building models and robotics. Play is where a child practices a lesson. Younger children may practice counting while lining up race cars. The possibilities are endless! Children are always learning, and play in all forms is valuable!

Here are some helpful ideas for play at home!