Play is vital in our daily lives, and adults and children play differently.
While sports like football and badminton may be played by adults, young children may prefer a game of hide-and-seek.
In a game of hide-and-seek, children are running and seeking, and, at the same time, maintaining the game by negotiating and agreeing to abide by the rules.
Though it may seem like a simple game, it offers children many opportunities to enhance their gross and fine motor, cognitive, social and emotional skills, as well as language development.
Through play, children also learn how to imitate - a skill which is crucial in cognitive development.
Research has shown the many benefits of meaningful play. Play that incorporates guidance from adults can promote a child's skills in socialisation (sharing and taking turns with peers), negotiation, problem-solving, conflict resolution and imagination.
A child also fosters closer ties with his parents, siblings, teachers and friends.
Neurologically, play stimulates the hippocampus which enhances memory. It also enhances the frontal lobe of the brain which is involved in emotional behaviour.
Given the importance and benefits of play, parents and teachers should actively promote and incorporate fun and creative play-based activities with children.
There is a group of children with limited play skills and who are often deprived of play.
Children with learning disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, have restricted skills in playing.
They may have difficulties imitating, or have poor or limited play action sequences, or are lacking in imaginary play.
Some with severe autism have poor social and communication skills, and may display aggressive behaviour.
Teachers of children with autism are encouraged to incorporate play-based classroom activities while targeting their learning goals at the same time.
Adults should not dismiss children's play as meaningless. We should remember that all children have the right to play, and parents have a responsibility to ensure that children are given freedom to play.
Parents are supposed to encourage children to play because it helps in their development. Children should not be burdened with homework. They should be given the liberty to play, and to explore the world and the people around them.
Arnold Chua Chee Keong
Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children
SPD (formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled)