How play can make a difference for your child

It has many effects on development

How play helps kids learn

It is generally through play that a preschool child learns about the world around her and then assimilates what she has earned into her concept of reality. Preschool children enjoy three different forms of play: physical, manipulative and symbolic.

Physical play refers to activities that involve use of the muscles. These activities emphasize action, and include running, hopping, jumping, climbing, throwing, sliding and playing with a ball.

Manipulative play refers to activities by which a child learns to gain better control over her environment. These activities include the use of puzzles and building blocks (which also requires some physical play skills) as well as games that involve social manipulation ("What can I do to make Daddy come to me?").

Symbolic play involves manipulation, not of people, but of events and objects. These play activities would include the use of fantasy, pretend play, and nonsense rhymes. In symbolic play, a child can change events, identities, and emotions for the sake of her play, thereby gaining more complete control over her newly created world.

READ MORE: The Importance of Outdoor Play

In a child's life, play has many important effects on development.

Physical development. Play activities that involve physical exercise help to promote a child's general health. Specific activities that involve, for example, perceptual-motor skills also help to develop the child's eye-hand coordination.

Cognitive development. Through play a young child is able to try out her understanding of how the world works. What we see in a child's play is not just trucks, dolls, teacups, and saucers. It is the child's cognitive conception of the world as she experiences and understands it.

Emotional development. Perhaps the single most important contribution of play to emotional development is the role it has in the formation of a child's self-concept. Play is also a means by which a child can deal with emotional conflicts (for example, by using puppets to talk about hurt feelings).

Social development. In play activities a child has an opportunity to experiment with different roles, power relationships and rules. For example, a young child may tell a doll or teddy bear to "sit in a corner" for some type of misbehavior.

Because young children enjoy play, it becomes a very natural way for them to learn about themselves and the world in which they live.

So the next time you see your child engaged in play, you will know that your child is not just "goofing off." She is engaged in the "work of childhood," namely, promoting her physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Dennis Dunn, Publisher, Growing Child; P.O. Box 62, Lafayette, IN 47902; 800-927-7289;