Importance of play for children's physical development

Updated March 15, 2017

Though it may look like your child is simply building a block tower, she is really working. The little boy at the park in the sandbox is working as well. Play is a child's work and is just as important for his development as learning his ABCs. The American Academy of Pediatricians issued a report, "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds" in which they state, "Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength." This report also notes that play is considered so important to the development of children that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights considers it to be a basic right of every child.

Large Muscle Development

Climbing, running, jumping and navigating play equipment are all ways in which play can enhance the development of large muscles. Children improve balance, agility and coordination through these types of play. The best thing about play that develops large muscle skills is that it requires little or no equipment. A game of tag or hopscotch, a game of neighbourhood kick ball, or a trip to the local park to play on the jungle jim all enhance a child's physical development.

Small Muscle Development

Fine motor skills are also readily developed through play. Colouring, cutting with child-sized scissors and playing with toys such as peg boards or dressing dolls are just a few ways that children develop small muscle coordination and dexterity. As skills increase, children naturally increase the difficulty of their play, constantly stretching their limits. Video games and computer keyboarding will also increase dexterity, but these activities should be limited.

Child-Driven Play

Many children have busy schedules, and most activities do increase physical development. Soccer and swimming lessons develop large muscles, piano lessons develop dexterity. While these lessons are beneficial to a child, it is important not to over-schedule. Children need time to engage in free play--games that use imagination. Purchase toys that encourage child-driven play such as dolls, play food and dishes, blocks, trucks and balls. Any game that does not include adult-issued rules is great. Toys that have one prescribed activity, such as a computer game will stifle creativity and prevent physical activity.

Parent Influence

Parents play a large role in the development of their children. Making sure that children have the time and space to play is crucial. Children who are in day care should be getting plenty of free play time and fresh air. At home, video games, computer and Internet use and television should be restricted to a few hours per week to encourage children to engage in imaginative play.

Local Resources

Parents need not have a large budget for children to receive plenty of opportunities for physical development. Go for a nature walk (or a city walk). Search out local parks and fit a visit into your schedule. Local swimming pools and YMCAs offer open swim times when children can splash around. Collaborate with other parents to form play groups where children can meet, socialise and engage in play.

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About the Author

Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.