This article first appeared in the November-December 2003 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. How many times have we heard this saying reminding us that play is just as important as work? And yet, even if this adage has been used so many times, it doesn’t change the fact that play unquestionably has an important role in the development of a person, most especially a child.
Educator Regina C. Licauco says, “Play is extremely important in that it allows children to develop social, language, motor and cognitive skills which are all as equally important as inculcating basic academic skills. In play, children feel free to explore their world.”
Learning through play Penelope Leach, author of Your Baby and Child, says that play is more than “just fun” to children. “Play is learning and practicing what they have learned. It is anything that stimulates them to use their bodies and their senses and to develop their thinking and their intelligence. When you do play deliberately with your child, you are doing a very important job: you are teaching him,” Leach writes.
Cherry Thelmo-Fernandez of Cebu City, mommy to 3-year old Raj, believes that children learn best when at play. “This is because they have fun. The lessons I give my son are in the form of play,” Cherry shares. Raj has learned to count and identify colors and letters and shapes at an early age, even though he does not go to school yet. She adds, “We also get to instill values, good manners, and some forms of discipline in our child through play -- role-playing, pretend playing.”
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And it’s important that parents play with their kids, says Licauco, from birth. She adds, “When my baby was born I had toys that made sounds and I’d shake them around his head to see if he could follow it. He’s one year old now and he loves hide and seek and peek-a-boo games.”
Bonding through play Play enables parents to get to know more about their child -- his temperaments and his capabilities. Through play, the child reveals himself to the parent, and the parent to the child, thus greatly benefiting the parent-child relationship.
Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, writes, “Being a playful parent will not only build your child’s confidence by encouraging her to explore her world and her imagination, but it will also provide you with a chance to connect with your child that you may not otherwise have.”
According to him, adults need to get down on the floor if they want to develop strong bonds with a child, solve conflicts, and raise a confident human being. Kids get close to loved ones, blow off steam, and have fun while they play.
Sid Garcia, father of two boys ages three and one, feels that through playing with his kids he has gotten closer to them. “Spending time with the boys has enabled me to discover things about them. I feel that I know them personally through our interactions. Play actually nourishes my relationship with them. I can act silly with my boys without fear of embarrassment,” Sid says.
“My husband and I believe that children who have fun with their parents are happier, more secure of themselves,” adds Cherry. Her son spends time with his daddy, mostly by playing together -- pretend play, sports, drawing, coloring, story-telling. As a result, Cherry’s son is very attached to her husband, even though he goes off to work the whole week. “My son looks forward to playing with his dad before breakfast, at lunch when his dad comes home, and at dinnertime when his dad comes home again,” Cherry shares.
Playing is also an important part in her child’s relationship with his grandparents. Her son even “sets an appointment” with them, saying, “Later we play with cars, okay, Nanay (referring to his paternal grandmother)?”
Licauco adds, “When you play with your child, you give him your time and with that you tell him that he is important to you. Communicating your love and concern for him is the biggest benefit he derives from play.”
Play as part of discipline Since play is considered as the child’s language, this is an effective medium to impart principles and instructions.
Games hold a child’s attention, allowing lessons to sink in, in the spirit of fun. Children are more likely to remember what they have learned through play than what they’ve heard in parents’ lectures.
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Sid remembers a time when his three-year-old son, Savion, didn’t want to wash up before going to bed. “Instead of blowing off steam and getting mad at him, I invented a song that talked about washing the face, brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, etc. It lightened up Savion’s mood and made him comply. The next night, he was eager to wash up before bedtime because he remembered the song,” Sid says.
Cherry likewise shares how, through pretend play, she teaches her son that one has to behave and not have tantrums. “In The Frog Prince, the princess had to let the frog eat from her plate and sleep on her bed because she promised she would. Our son loves to pretend he’s a prince. So the queen and king remind him that once he makes a promise, even though he doesn’t like to do it, he has to,” Cherry shares.
Leach advises parents with toddlers to use clever play as a means to help the kids get organized. If your toddler has his blocks all over the floor and you tell him to pick them up, he will probably refuse. You may scream and punish him, but he won’t budge. “But if you say, ‘I bet you can’t put those blocks in the bag before I’ve peeled these potatoes,’ you turn the whole issue into a game. Now he wants to do what you want him to do, so he will,” reveals Leach.
Licauco adds, “Play time can be used as reward for good behavior, but the child should realize that so that it becomes an effective tool.”
Play as investment Many adults struggle to let go of their grown-up agenda and may see play as a waste of time. They may think they are better off doing something more important than building blocks or coloring.
“Consider play time as one of your best investments,” Leach advises. “The more interest you show in doing things with your baby early on, the more interest your child will have in doing things with you when he gets older.
As your child grows, you can involve him in your work and your play since being with you is the best reward.”
Licauco adds, “Set aside time to play with your child and don’t allow interruptions -- no cellphone, no TV, no business calls during this time. Your full attention to him during play time will go a long way for you and him.”
“Playing with my boys can be very tiring sometimes,” relates Sid. “But I feel that this is the best way that our relationship as father and sons can be nurtured. I always think that someday, they will get into other activities and have other friends and might want to be spending less time with me, so I might as well relish this time spent with them. Hopefully, they too will look back and see how much fun they had playing with daddy.”