You probably heard the phrase “children learn through play”. This sentence is not far from reality. Play has a major role in a child’s cognitive development, in addition to their social and emotional well-being. Cognitive development is a process that starts in childhood and continues into adulthood. It involves a complex thought process which includes information processing, language development, decision making, memory, intelligence and reasoning.

From a biological point of view, brain development is a long process that starts during the embryonic stages and does not stop until you are about 25 years old. During the first years, we produce the vast majority of brain cells and their connections. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence showing a strong relationship between children’s playfulness and their cognitive and emotional development. Russian psychologist Dr. Lev Vygotsky was the first researcher to shed light on the role of play as a tool for emotional, social, physical and cognitive development in children.

5 types of play

  1. Physical play includes active exercises like running, jumping, dancing, bike riding or rough-and-tumble. It is important for motor skills, perceptual and coordination skills.
  2. Play with objects involves the surrounding physical world and their objects. It starts with early investigative behaviors—mouthing, biting, rubbing, hitting, dropping—and evolves into other activities, like sorting or building with blocks.
  3. Symbolic play includes sounds, speech, drawings or songs. It contributes to a child’s ability to express and reflect about their own experiences, emotions and ideas.
  4. Pretend play refers to the type of play in which children recreate events, situations or roles. Like playing cowboys or dress-up. This type of play is the most researched and the one with the closest association with cognitive and social development.
  5. Rule-based play like hide-and-seek, board games, or sports are important to develop social skills. Computer games are also included in this category. Despite the popular belief that videogames are “bad” for children or teenagers, recent studies have demonstrated that computer games based on open-ended or problem-solving challenges provide benefits. Other studies have also shown an increase in spatial and coordination abilities.

Nowadays, we live an urbanized lifestyle in which high-quality play time is neglected not only by parents but also by institutions. At school, the rigid curricula, the lack of physical play and creative motivation are detrimental to our children’s cognitive development. Even at our homes, we submit our children to structured schedules and extremely competitive play, and forget the joy of just playing to play.

For children with healthy, balanced brains, ensure that they play for hours at a time, if possible. Play with them. Playing with children not only can bring you joy and enhance your bond with them, but it is also a great way to enhance your cognitive and creative abilities, as well.

So, why are you still reading? GO PLAY!