By play we mean freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated behaviour that actively engages the child. It is performed for no external goal or reward, and is a fundamental and integral part of healthy development. Play can cover anything from children exploring outdoor spaces to making up new games to emulating adult activities or finding ways to express themselves. It can be carried out alone or with others; indoors or outdoors.
For children, play generally means some form of physical, creative or imaginative activity where there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to do things and where they take the lead in what happens and how games develop. Possibly most importantly, the play environment is not adult-led, but rather the adult participates in play with the children, while they themselves lead what happens.
There are many benefits of play for children. Physical skills – Play can be an obvious source of exercise for children and helps develop bone and muscle strength and control obesity. Cognitive skills – Play helps to develop memory and teaches observational and problem solving skills. Children also use play to test theories about the world (for example how dangerous an activity might be), themselves and others around them. Social skills and resilience – Research has shown that children who are most involved in play are the least likely to be aggressive, inattentive, shy or withdrawn. There is also evidence that play increases children’s ability to share, negotiate, cooperate and develop empathy. Wellbeing – Play can contribute to feelings of happiness and contentment and provide excitement in everyday life. It can also be a coping mechanism in difficult situations.