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The Benefits of Children's Playtime

By Tammy Gold, LCSW, MSW, CEC

When children climb at the playground or stack blocks with their playmates, they are immersed in a valuable learning experience. Playtime is a powerful educational tool for children and helps advance their social, emotional and cognitive growth. Through play, children learn about themselves and their environment.

Cognitive Benefits

A parent can see early learning through play when a baby grasps a rattle and experimentally shakes it. Young children learn through all five senses: touching, tasting, hearing, seeing and smelling. These play interactions can have profound benefits starting in infancy and continuing through young adulthood. As the American Academy of Pediatrics explains, "Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development."

The two main types of childhood play are: "free play" and "adult structured play." According to the Early Childhood Education Journal (2007), both types not only teach children about another's feelings, but also how to manage their own feelings. These types of lessons contribute significantly to a child's emotional health.

Health Benefits

In a time filled with TVs, iPads and video games, playing allows children to get the American Heart Association recommended one hour of physical activity per day they need to stay healthy. Playing also allows children to blow off steam. This emotional outlet is especially important during the toddler years when children are often confined in strollers, highchairs and car seats, which can increase frustrations. My advice to families when toddlers are prone to tantrums, is to give the toddler two hours of playtime in both the morning and the afternoon. A daily regimen of four hours of play dramatically decreases tantrums, while increasing sleep and tranquility.

Social Benefits

Through both structured and free play, children learn how to take turns, share, role-play and get along with others. Children grasp social norms through their playmates and learn to perceive how their actions have an affect on another's feelings.

Play dates arranged to allow children to bond can help them ease into new situations, such as starting a new school or going off to camp. Through play, they gain a comfort level with each other, and this bond can lessen the parental separation anxiety in their new surroundings.

Perhaps most importantly, playtime offers a wonderful way to forge parent-child relationships. My "5 Pillars of Positive Parenting" encourage parents to interact with their children through touch, talk, sing, smile and play. Playing puts parents and children on neutral ground where expectations are relaxed. Playing also helps parents and children de-stress and share meaningful time together. A quick trip to the park or to an indoor play center creates a wonderful memory for both parent and child.

Whether educationally, physically, socially or emotionally, playing greatly benefits children's lives. It is important that families--no matter how busy their schedules--make time for their child to connect with others and enjoy each other through play.

About the Author

Tammy Gold, LCSW, MSW, CEC, is author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer: A Practical Guide for Finding and Achieving the Gold Standard of Care for Your Child (Perigee, January 6, 2015). Founder of Gold Parent Coaching, which specializes in parent coaching, therapy, nanny-family matching, training and mediation, she has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and People, and is a frequent guest on TV's Good Morning America and Today.

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