El Juego. Miguel Panadero, , ,

Time to play

October 28, 2014  |  Education

Given that Kids & Management is a blog about children, it’s about time we talked about how important it is to play. Here we’re going to focus on the benefits playing has for children, about how to choose the best toy, and how to teach them to play on their own, with other kids, and with us. We have a lot to learn!

From infancy children enjoy playing. They have fun with rattles, with cuddly toys that make a noise when they touch them, they love being wrapped in baby blankets, getting to know different textures and colors… all this without realizing they are developing their intelligence. Then come the push-along toys, books made out of cloth, books to play with in the bath, puppets… By two years old they have started coloring and doing jigsaw puzzles with massive pieces, playing mummies and daddies with dolls, listening to stories and trundling along hallways on riding toys. At three they start building houses and bridges out of wooden blocks, or dress up as pirates with the help of a colander or a serviette, and find out that a wooden spoon makes a great pistol or sword. What does playing achieve? Many people think that it’s just a way to have fun, but while children are playing they are developing their attention span, coordination, body control, mobility, and they are learning to express emotions, developing creativity, imagination, memory, and social skills.

By 4 years old interaction comes into play. Because if before they were playing on their own, or at most playing next to other kids without so much as looking at them, from the age of 4 they discover that it is fun to play with other kids, and that is where they learn about and accept the norms for playing, taking decisions and respecting others. This might take the form of playing tag in the park or playground, sharing their scooter with other kids in the neighborhood, or playing with a guinea pig at the house next door. The older they get the more rules of the game emerge and the more they have to respect others. At 6 years old children play together and begin to really respect other kids as they learn how to win well and be good losers, how to wait their turn and other norms, and how to take others’ opinions into account. Moreover, by playing in a group they develop language skills, reasoning, memory, attention and reflection.

Child Development

As stated by the authors of ‘El juego en el desarrollo infantil’ (Playing in Child Development – McGraw Hill), “In addition to being fun for the child, playing games is stimulating and draws on a range of key components in child development. It provides a setting in which children can practice the experience of gauging their own possibilities in many aspects of life.” The authors describe how, on a social level, playing with other children and with adults is a powerful tool that fosters social development in that the child learns the basics of reciprocity, giving and receiving, and empathy. It also describes how, on an emotional level, children decide the story behind the characters in their games, what the different roles do, for how long, how they do it, and who is involved. Moreover, they project their feelings, giving free rein to their emotions.

And what role do adults play in these games? Their role is key, say the experts, because children enjoy the attention adults give them, and the parents in turn get great pleasure out of seeing their children having fun, smiling and happy. “An emotional link is forged between parents and children.” In this scenario, parents create a setting in which the children can play. Here it is the parents who lay down the norms and adapt them to the children’s age, creating a relaxed atmosphere, watching the kids, tweaking the norms – all this with passion, skill and creativity in an effort to engage the children’s interest. “Because there’s nothing kids like more than to find a grown-up who wants to play and share,” the experts say.

For Yahaya S. Touré, co-author of El niño y el juego (Children and Play) published by UNESCO, “educators should not forget that playing brings out, partially or wholly, a personality that is taking shape, and it does this because it is a means of perceiving and acting on the world that surrounds him or her. This world is, at the same time, made up of the child’s experiences and expectations.

Vamos Jogar!

Public institutions are aware of how important it is for children to play. UNICEF, for example, launched the ‘Vamos Jogar’ (Let’s play) campaign in March 2014. The joint initiative is being run in collaboration with the city of Rio de Janeiro to promote the right of all children and adolescents in the Latin America and Caribbean region to play, to take part in recreational activities, and to have access to the safe and inclusive practice of sport. “Vamos Jogar” aims to have people and organizations share the responsibility and to mobilize themselves in order to guarantee that children have a right to play. Why? Because, they say, when children play, they are not only enjoying themselves. Every girl and boy has the right to achieve their fullest potential in life, and access to games and sports in childhood plays a crucial role in making this happen.

Leaders of the “Vamos Jogar” initiative say that “Playing and doing sport are ways of learning values and lessons that will stay with you for life, as well as fostering friendships and a sense of fair play. Games teach you about teamwork, discipline, respect. They help prepare youngsters for the challenges they will have to face later in life and to assume positions of leadership in their communities.” The “Vamos Jogar” team also remind us that the right to play is enshrined in article 31 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and that this includes “their right to be heard in all decisions that affect their future. Hence, sports and games are not only mechanisms to develop and learn life skills, they also empower children and enable them to participate.”