If I could give one piece of advice to parents eager in helping their children gain an edge in development, it would be simple: Play with them. The benefits of child play in brain development and learning cannot be overstated. Megan A. Moreno, M.D. explains that when parents and other caretakers support child play, physical development and social skills, including language and communication, are enhanced:
Many different types of play benefit children, including playing on their own, playing with other children, and playing with their adult caretakers. When a child plays independently, he or she practices decision-making skills and discovers areas of interest. When children play together, without adults directly involved, they learn to work together, negotiate, and resolve conflicts and they learn self-advocacy skills. When parents observe their children in play or join with them in child-driven play, they get an opportunity to see the world from their child’s point of view. These adult-child interactions help build strong supportive relationships.
Adult-child play in particular has an enormous influence on language development in infants and toddlers. Reading books early and often with children of all ages may be the most obvious way language development is impacted; getting down on the floor and playing (and talking) with young children at eye-level (their level) is critical in capturing and maintaining their short attention spans. In our increasingly electronic-oriented society, however, the only things getting in some children’s faces are TV, tablet, and computer screens. While you can find many programs and apps that easily keep their attention and help kids learn, face-to-face, hands-on-minds-on play may be the most effective way to improve cognitive and developmental skills. In a new study published this month in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers compared child’s play using traditional toys and games with more modern electronic toys. As you might expect, Dr. Moreno says toys with bells and whistles aren’t better:
The investigators gave one group of parents and their children traditional toys such as puzzles and blocks. They gave the other group of parents and their children electronic toys that produced lights or sounds when used. The researchers found that during play with electronic toys, there was decreased amount and frequency of language used between children and parents. The researchers concluded that play with electronic toys was associated with decreased quantity and quality of language between parent and child compared with play with books or traditional toys.
Individual, child-child, and child-adult playtime is critical for development to flourish. If young children have a “job,” it is to eat, sleep, and play. Dr. Moreno encourages parents to remember that meaningful playtime supports learning, language development, and creativity:
Enjoy playing with your child and feel confident in the importance of playtime.