Balance of Play
by Kathleen Alfano View Bio
Kathleen Alfano is a child development and play specialist, with 35 years in the toy industry, Kathleen Alfano is a well-known expert in the field of early childhood, child development, play patterns, age grade determinations of toys and children’s products, and trends in play and parenting. Dr. Alfano possesses a keen understanding and awareness of cultural similarities and differences of children around the world through her travel to over 40 countries for the purpose of researching children at play. Author of numerous articles, she is a sought after speaker at national and international conferences. Her motto is: MAKE PLAY PART OF YOUR DAY.
- Different types of play helps kids develop different skills, so it is important to mix up the way your children play!
- Join your child during playtime! Whether you’re reading or coloring together, you are forming a bond and making memories.
- Engage in all different types of play such as physical, imaginative, emotional, social, and more! Discover 100+ play ideas here.
What does getting a balance of play mean to you?
Getting a balance of play is about being well-rounded, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that! A balance of play should include solo/social, inside/outside, and quiet/active playtime.
Developmentally, playing alone and playing with others helps children develop autonomy and social skills; Playing inside involves different skills and behaviors than playing outside, and usually with a different variety of toys and activities; and Playing quietly, such as with art materials, puzzles or books, involves different skills and body control than being physically active, such as engaging in robust imaginative play or activities.
Why is it important that kids get a variety of play? Are all types of play good or do you think some are more beneficial than others?
By nature, children engage in a variety of play, and continue to evolve their interests and preferences as they grow. Playing is how they learn and explore, so the more opportunities they have to do so, the better their skills have a chance to develop. Here are just a few examples of the variety of play and some developmental benefits:
- Imaginative play, alone or with others, provides children a stage to act out their creative thoughts, experiment with role-playing and use their emerging language skills.
- Putting blocks together and building things encourages problem solving, critical thinking and spatial awareness, as well as introducing concepts such as spatial awareness, balance, gravity and size and shape comparisons.
- Playing with interactive toys or media provides immediate responses to their inputs, and encourages engagement and involvement in either a game or story or imaginative activity.
- Being physically active while playing, by running, jumping, playing sports or other physical activities, supports the development of muscle coordination, body control, self-confidence, and overall strength and conditioning.
There are many other varieties of play that children engage in, and one is not more important than the other. However, what is most important is that children enjoy their time at play and eventually show some evidence of growth and development. Since different skills are developed with each type of play, the more ways and varieties in which a child plays, the better! That’s the genius of play.
You research play all over the world, and speak at many international conferences. Do you see differences in the way kids play around the world? If so, where are children best getting a variety of types of play into their schedule?
Play is universal and child development is universal. Globally, all children play and develop their play skills and interests in similar ways. Children around the world go through the same developmental milestones at a varying pace, each child different from the next, whether compared to a sibling or to a child from across the globe.
When observing children play, it’s difficult to determine in which country they live. Their play patterns are so similar to each other. It’s the language that is different, and often their cultural habits, but not how the children play.
An example of similar play patterns is that when using a play phone, children usually ‘call’ their parent and have an on-going ‘conversation’. Also, children all over the world engage in socio-dramatic play, using similar themes, such as home (playing mom/dad), kitchen (cooking for family/stuffed animals), doctor (well-visits, sick patient, getting shots), veterinarian (baby animals, taking care of sick animals), fire fighter (taking care of emergencies). All children, when given interesting props to play with, will use them in imaginative ways and incorporate familiar themes.
Play is a uniting element of childhood. When children from other countries get together, they will play through their differences.
You also speak about the importance for adults to get their playtime in too! How can getting a mix of play help parents and kids connect and build bond with each other?
Magic happens when an adult and a child play together. There’s a joy and connection that takes place. Being in the moment. Really experiencing the flow, the conversation (or efforts at communicating), the give-and-take, the back-and-forth. No matter if it is a quiet time, such as reading a book or coloring together, or playing make-believe feeding the animals on the pretend farm or making play-dough or having a tea party, a bond is formed, and memories are made.
Play helps promote a positive attitude and joyful spirit. As adults, when we think of childhood, we usually think of play, they seem to go together. However, research has shown that play is important for the overall well-being of adults. When feeling overwhelmed by daily pressures, take a moment and try to look at the world as if through the eyes of a child, look for beauty in the simple things. Carve out a little bit of time to play with a child. Play is a great mind-clearer. When fully engaged in play, problems are put away for the moment. Play has benefits for children and adults, which automatically flow and accrue from the play experiences.
What are some tips you’d like to give parents on how to make sure their child is getting a good mix of play?
To help children get a good mix of play, provide toys or activities:
- that could be played with alone
- that could be played with others