Playing might seem like it’s the luxury of being a kid, but it’s actually a critical part of their development. Kristine Sorensen talks with Cara Ciminillo, executive director of Trying Together, about why play is so important for all children. Here’s their edited conversation.
Kristine Sorensen: Play seems like fun, but is it really important for a child’s development?
Cara Ciminillo: It is, and it begins right at birth. Play is really the most natural way that children learn. So it’s really important to carve time out of our day, and our child’s day, to have that opportunity.
Kristine Sorensen: What are kids learning?
Cara Ciminillo: From the very beginning, they’re learning language skills. They’re learning words and sounds. When they begin to play with objects, they learn the names of things. They learn verbs because they’ll learn what the object can do. For example, if you’re playing with a truck and it’s going fast, you begin to understand what those words mean because you have objects to associate with them.
Children learn empathy and social and emotional skills, which are really important. That means they learn how to talk about their own feelings and how to recognize, understand and respond to their friends’ feelings.
They also learn physical skills. They build muscle, and they begin to learn what risk is and how far to go physically. For example, a child might think, ‘”What are my boundaries?” and “When do I need to pull back?”
Kristine Sorensen: When it comes to playing, should children play by themselves, with other kids, or with adults?
Cara Ciminillo: Actually, they should do all of that. They should have solo play. That’s what we call when they play by themselves. That helps to build social independence, and it helps to develop ways to make themselves happy. A child might consider, “Maybe I need time to rest,” and “I want downtime. I should sit back and read for a little bit or play with my dolls.” It also teaches the imaginary play.
Kids should also play with their friends. They learn those social and emotional skills, like taking turns and being kind to one another.
Play with their parents or their caregivers is really important because that helps build that bond and relationship with those who take care of them, so all three are really important.