Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.
- Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852)
Friedrich Froebel was a German pedagogue (teacher) who understood before anyone else that children have unique educational requirements. He understood the importance of play, allowing children to exercise their dexterity, creativity, imagination and strength (physical, cognitive and emotional) in a supported environment, alongside peers and educators.
He invented the very first kindergarten; the word has German origins, kinder meaning children and garten meaning garden – Froebel taught us that children should literally play in the garden!
It is through play that children also develop stronger social skills and form the foundation of problem solving, negotiation, compromise and cognitive processing. The physicality of play fortifies their strength, balance and spatial awareness. Through disagreements or failure, they learn to positively process difficult emotions, as well as develop a sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation.
A 2012 paper in Cerebrum shows that play promotes the release of adrenaline, but not cortisol, meaning play is an excellent way to de-stress, without requiring physical stagnation to do so. The benefits of play are in no way limited to children; like so many things, when adults engage in child-like behaviour, not only do we benefit in all the same ways, we also model these important examples to our children.
There is a very strong link between play and sleep. Intermittent play throughout the day promotes excellent sleep. The healthy exhausting of the mind and body that occurs through child’s play encourages rapid sleep onset and better sleep maintenance. These, in turn, promote more imaginative and gratifying play. Play begets sleep begets play begets sleep…
The World Health Organisation recommends infants under 1 year of age have at least 30 minutes of floor-time each day. Children 1-2 years need 3 hours of physical activity (moderate) per day and children 3-4 years need more than 3 hours of vigorous physical activity per day.
During this COVID era, play can be unfortunately reduced through school closures, lockdowns and colder weather. This means that children need it more than ever and it would be wise to focus more on facilitating play than worrying about online learning outcomes. Create play areas inside and outside your home. Limit electronic toys that stifle imagination. Assemble opportunities for role-play, building and physicality, all in a safe and secure environment, so that the parent/carer needn’t interfere frequently to protect the child(ren).
Most importantly – have fun!
Your child benefits, you benefit.
Be ein kind im garten (a child in the garden)!