The Importance of Play in Child Development
Play is a vitally important component in child development. The Child Development Institute, in an article entitled “Play Is The Work of the Child”, identifies play as “essential to healthy development for children”, and recommends that children “should have experience with a wide variety of content”. The article cites the work of Maria Montessori, who compiled a list of “essential dimensions of play”, which emphasize enjoyment, spontaneity, creativity development through the use of skills, new ideas, and social adaptation as the key elements in a successful program of development through play.
In his article entitled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” (Pediatrics Vol. 119 No 1 January 1, 2007, pp. 182-191), Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg stated that, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.” Dr. Ginsburg also reports that the importance of play “has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.”
A good example of a developmentally appropriate environment is the model created by the Child and Family Center at Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt has created a network of child care centers with a philosophy based upon theories developed by pioneers in the field of child development, to include Erikson, Montessori, and Piaget. Vanderbilt employs open classrooms, and offers children a variety of learning-based activities. Children are encouraged to exercise choice, and to participate in “planning the environment and its activities.” Above all, the Vanderbilt model emphasizes that safety is paramount, and this is the overriding consideration in choosing activities and materials.
There are many ideas for play which parents and family members can incorporate into activities. Canadian researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development (CEECD) and the Strategic Cluster on Early Child Development (SKC-ECD) recommend thirty minutes of structured physical activity daily, and that activities should encourage the use of movement skills (such as playing with a ball). They further recommend one or more hours of “unstructured” physical activity, as well as “outdoor activities and unstructured exploration under adult supervision”, and suggest “free play”, or a simple walk in a park. They warn against excessive sedentary activity, suggesting no more than one to two hours of television per day, and that no more than a total of one hour per day be devoted to other sedentary activities (i.e., video games or other electronics). They further advise parents to not place a television set in a child’s bedroom, to prevent excessive television watching; in addition, they recommend that viewing choices for toddlers be limited to constructive, learning-oriented programming. Encouraging children to engage in physical activity is also a factor in preventing childhood obesity, which is a growing phenomenon, particularly in the United States.
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