For children, play is naturally enjoyable. And since it is their active engagement in things that interest them, play should be child-led, or at least child-inspired, for it to remain relevant and meaningful to them. Children at play are happily lost in themselves; they are in their own realm of wonder, exploration, and adventure, pulling parents in at times with a frequent “Let’s play, mom!” as an open invitation into that world.
As early as infancy, children immerse themselves in play activities with the purpose of making sense of the world around them. Doug Cole, chairman of the International Play Association in Wales, U.K., said, “Play gives children the opportunity to learn and experience things themselves, which is vital for their development.” Although peek-a-boo games seem pointless to adults, tots are awed by the surprise that awaits them as they see the suddenly emerging faces of people they love.
Stages of Play During toddlerhood, children experience a motor-growth spurt that equips them to solitarily fiddle with anything they can get their hands on—be it a construction toy or the box from where it came. Toddlers also love breaking into song, wiggling and jiggling to tunes, and imitating finger plays they are commonly exposed to.
Preschoolers begin extending their play to involve others, whether they bring others in at any stage of the game or they plan their game and its players way ahead. Their physical and motor skills allow them to widen their play arena, from dramatic play to table games to outdoor pursuits.
School-age children start appreciating organized play—such as innovated songs and rhymes, games with rules, relays and other physical activities, sports, and projects that they can accomplish over a certain time frame.
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