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Children’s Motor Development: Why is playing so important?

We live in a historically unequalled moment, in which the health emergency has inevitably imposed many limits. One of these is the opportunity for children to play, especially outdoors and with their peers. However, the long period of time at home becomes equally important to spend time playing and creating new and exciting moments of fun. In fact, playing is more than just a leisure time, it is the ultimate activity through which children experience life, learn and grow. It is functional and is directly proportional to children’s motor development, helping them to express their not yet acquired physical abilities. By playing children increase their movement range, coordination, balance, agility and flexibility. They can always be active and reactive, and moreover play also enhances their skills like learning, creativity and self and other people’s awareness. Therefore, playing benefits on a physical level, but most of all on a cognitive one.

Playing evolution

Since the first months of their life children’s evolutionary process is strongly influenced by the inputs of the surrounding environment. Children become aware of themselves through the experience of playing, and also begin to understand how objects work. Even the interaction with parents is a way of playing: by imitating their actions children can learn, affecting directly their motor development and cognitive abilities.

As time goes by, playing activities change and adapt to children’s age and intellectual development. The more they grow, the more structured their plays will become. Up to three years old, children do not play together, they stay close to each other and exchange toys: this is called parallel play. There is still no social interaction, which will begin in kindergarten. The social play phase begins between 4 and 5 years old, and it will further develop at primary school. In this age group, playful activity becomes an expression of their own inner dynamics: through the symbolic play children re-elaborate the emotions they experience everyday. Through the representation of what they live, children are able to understand the external reality and control their own inner world of desires and instincts: they mediate between the worlds. From 6 to 10 years old, once absorbed social rules they start playing in a group. They interact with their peers, form their personalities so they achieve more self-confidence. They become aware of their individuality within their environment. As they play, they also release their emotionality and instinct.

Significance of Play

Play has many meanings and functions, including fun, self and world awareness, enhancement of physical and cognitive abilities, learning, but also relieving tension and strong emotions. Movement plays, in particular, are important for the children’s motor development, but also to help them get all their energy out.

However, it must be pointed out that the simpler the play is, the more it will stimulate children’s curiosity and imagination, encouraging them to always find new ways to use the same object and turn it into everything they want. So, for example, a ride-on can become a fire truck with which  put out a fire, and a first steps cart turns into a comfortable pram for the doll. Because playing is imagination and the imagination helps growing up happier.