To adults, ‘play’ often sounds like something unproductive, and only something one does in their leisure time. But, at the same time, so many parents are sending their kids to school – to play! Indeed, play is important, even essential, to a child’s all-rounded development.
Play, structured or unstructured, empowers organic learning. But did you know that structured and unstructured play offer your child different skills? As such, IB schools in Singapore curate structured play with various skills children can pick up with a little nudge. The beauty of structured play is that it maximises learning opportunities. Here’s why play is integral for children, along with some suggestions on how you can maximise the value of their playtime.
Importance of play
The beauty of play is often overlooked. Adults might perceive play as purely a time-filler, but the benefits of play are emphasised in international schools in Singapore.
1. Develops physical coordination and fitness
Concerned that your child spends too much time running around? Don’t worry, because movement actually helps them with their physical coordination and fitness.
When children play ball games with their friends, it trains their hand-eye coordination skills, which is always good to start from a young age. Apart from motor skills, these activities also develop a habit of keeping physically active.
2. Develops independence and problem-solving skills
Besides the physical aspect, play trains these young minds as well. If you think about it, play is essentially letting your child interact with people, objects and by extension, the world around him.
When encountering difficulties, your child is encouraged to independently experiment with his surroundings. For instance, after play time, you child might be struggling to fit all of their toys in a deceivingly small box. This is when they are urged to experiment, to think of ways to keep all their toys well. As children do not have a learning bias, they tend to be more open to problem-solving.
3. Develops creativity
On top of problem-solving, creativity is another skill that you can discover and develop in your child. Different children are creative in their ways, so give your child some time for unstructured play and you’ll discover where they flourish in.
Often, problem-solving and creativity come together. Back to the example of the toys, once children experiment and realise some toys can be folded or flattened, they may attempt this new solution and finally, solve the problem.
So, what does structured play look like?
1. Free vs guided play
Free play is when your child takes ownership of his play. Children in free play decide what they want to do. Take for example, you pass your child a piece of paper. The first step your child might do is to look around and see what he can find in the room. In this case, some children may choose to take a pencil and draw on the paper or some may fold the paper instead.
Such an activity helps you understand your child – are they artistic or do they hold strong dexterity skills? Managing their own play also gives children the confidence to experiment.
On the other hand, guided play usually happens with an older person. The older person invites the child to participate in a certain activity, and guides the child along with instructions or prompts. This type of play may be more goal-oriented, and transforms play into a source of knowledge-building.
2. Imaginative/pretend play
In a classroom setting, imaginative play typically occurs in storytelling or drama acting. Your child would be given a situation, along with props or storylines. For example, they can be tasked to imagine that their favourite soft toy is alive, just like a real-life best friend. Then they share with the class what they like about this best friend of theirs, what they would like to thank them for, and even what acts of kindness they would like to do for their friend! In reimagining a toy to be a real person, it feeds the child’s sense of creativity.
3. Expressive play
Expressive play allows your child to share their feelings and ideas in artistic ways. When colouring, they can choose colours that hint at their mood. Being able to put it down visually also encourages them to understand how they are feeling, instead of bottling it up inside.
4. Constructive play
Constructive play involves both imagination and experimentation. If your child is building lego blocks or working with clay, they need to imagine what they want to construct first. Then, extending from an idea to an actual object requires experimenting.
Moreover, creating something from scratch will give them a sense of accomplishment, boosting their confidence.
5. Cooperative play
This form of play involves working with others. When playing tag or sports in schools, children need to understand and follow the agreed rules. As a group, children also learn how to interact socially – making friends and understanding what it means to be a friend to others.
Play isn’t just for fun; it is integral to a child’s development. Apart from ensuring your child gets ample playtime in a play-based learning system, you’ll also want to set aside enough opportunities for them to play at home.
Having a variety of structured and unstructured play sets the stage for your child to pick up different skills. Most of these skills are easier honed when young and can start from first grade age.