Child’s Play: Why is it important

By Raj Khillan & Malini Singh
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Photo by Vikram Nath Chouhan on Unsplash

The toddler years, ages 12 months to 36 months, are a time of great cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development. But how does a toddler navigate through this developmental journey? This is mainly done via play. For toddler’s play is an essential part of this critical developmental period. In the life of a toddler, play is serious business. Often toddler play appears to be random acts of fantasy, frolic, and make-believe fun and games. The reality is that play during this critical stage of development is helping the child gain mastery in three important areas—acting out important experiences, recognizing the difference between fantasy and reality, and learning to become more independent.

Acting out important experiences

In the early stages of their life, a toddler will engage in pretend play. Towards the end of the toddler years, pretend play becomes more complex and children will spend more time at imitation play. For example, simple play with feeding a favourite doll an invisible bottle may later develop play sessions with your toddler imitating your behaviours as she feeds her doll her peas and carrots. Imaginative play is critically important as toddler models the behaviours of the key people in their life. Through play, children start to experiment with decision-makingon how to behave in the family and in the world.

Recognizing the difference between fantasy and reality

Learning to engage with others socially is an important aspect of social and emotional development. Equally important is grasping the concept of fantasy versus reality. Early in their lives children spends a lot of time in fantasy thought and this is s in their seen in their play. Mastering pretend and imaginative play helps children to begin to learn the difference between fantasy and reality. It is important that a child begins to understand the reality of what can and cannot happen. For example, a child who has mastered imaginative play knows that the teddy bear who is the teacher during her play is not a teacher at her Day-care program.

Learning to become more independent

Arguably, the most important developmental task for a toddler is to successfully begin the journey of becoming independent from their parents. At the beginning of this stage of development, the toddler sets about understanding that she is a separate person from her parents. Sounds great theoretically. But how does this actually translate in the real world? This expresses itself by wilfulness, desire to have control, testing limits, frequent use of the word “No” and the infamous terrible two temper tantrums. Yet, these years and experiences are important to allow a child to begin expressing a greater need for independence and gaining control over themselves and the world around them. During these developmentally fast-paced years, a toddler is hard at work gaining control over toileting, food choices, clothing selection, and toy preferences. Mastering this very critical task of this stage gives a toddler a sense of security, confidence, and autonomy—a sense of being able to handle problems on her won. Without this mastery, she is left with a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt.

The power of play has a great impact on a toddler’s development. The rich lessons a toddler learns while hard at work at play are important for a child’s health, development, and well-being.


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