Let Them Play! – Thoughts from an Occupational Therapist

What comes to mind when the word ‘play’ is mentioned? I would think that it would generally conjure up the image of children engaging in some form of physical activity. Perhaps children bouncing away atop a giant bouncy castle? Or two children clothed in capes having a sword fight with foam swords? Or a group of girls dressing up their Barbie dolls in the latest fashions getting them ready to go out to the shopping mall? All of the above would be acceptable answers. Play is an integral part of a child’s life. However, in these times whereby academic excellence is prized, many children have been denied the chance to express their creativity and create lasting bonds and friendships amidst the thrill of a game of robbers and cops with carefully crafted paper guns or a Jedi lightsaber fight with lightsabers made out of toilet paper roll holders.

There are various benefits that are associated with play. Firstly, children develop gross and fine motor skills and are encouraged to become more creative as they navigate the different scenarios that they place themselves in. Additionally, they become more imaginative as they allow their imagination to take flight and launch themselves into other dimensions or to create toys out of ordinary everyday objects. Children frequently gather together at the playground, parks and each others’s homes to play with one another and thus form friendships through their play. Inevitably, they will learn social skills through play and learn how to take turns with play equipment or toys. They will also learn how to negotiate and cooperate with one another about what roles each of them may take on and learn to obey the rules of the playground or the games that they are playing. Children who engage in play become hardier and more resilient to falling off play equipment or facing disappointment about not being able to play with certain toys at certain times. Through time, they also learn how to manage risk and gain a better sense of judgement about the type of play that they should engage in and those that they should avoid.

Most importantly, the biggest benefit of play is to have fun, and remembering that they have had a memorable childhood.

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There are many benefits to play and it is important that children be allowed to indulge in it in order for them to develop the necessary skills for them to advance inside and outside the classroom. So much importance is placed on academic excellence and classroom skills that one forgets that learning also occurs outside the classroom or during play.

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Let children be children. Let them play. Let them cast aside the mundane day to day reality for awhile and imagine that they are princesses at a foreign court or spacemen fending off aliens. After all, don’t we all wish that we could be like carefree children again? Let us put aside their Maths homework for a while and allow them to be the fun loving, playful beings that they have been created to be. They will only be children for a short period of time. Let us not deny them the freedom to be creative and imaginative and enjoy the art of play while they are still easily amused by empty boxes and crates that can be turned into a fort to protect them from the evil dragon.

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Jacinta Kee completed her Master of Occupational Therapy at The University of Sydney and in the past has worked as a Paediatric Disability Support Worker with St. Anthony’s Family Care in Sydney, Australia.  Jacinta is passionate about working with children, especially those with disabilities to help them to live a fulfilling life. 

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