The What of Balanced Play
The Balanced Play Diet is all about emphasising the importance of a well-rounded play experience for children. So let’s have a closer look at the Play Pyramid and the activities on it…
Unlocking Boundless Creativity: The Power of Active and Imaginative Child-Led Play
The first section of the Play Pyramid is active and imaginative child-led play, the ‘superfoods’ of the Play Diet. It’s difficult to get too much of these activities as they are beneficial for all areas of development – so fill as much of your child’s time as you can with this.
This type of play should be unstructured and encourage children to use their bodies, minds and imaginations to invent and explore without being restricted by specific rules or guidelines. Playing with others in this free way will help them to develop the core skills they will need to thrive in life, such as communication, initiative, problem solving, empathy and conflict resolution.
Active play involves physical movement and exercise, such as running, jumping, and climbing, and helps children develop gross motor skills, improve coordination and keep physically fit. It also provides an outlet for their energy and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Imaginative play such as making up imaginary worlds and roleplaying different characters and situations helps cognitive and social development by encouraging children to think critically, express themselves and explore different perspectives. Dressing up, puppet shows, building forts or dens, and open ended art activities like painting or sculpting are all great ways to allow children to develop skills while having fun in the process.
Building Skills and Bonds: The Benefits of Board Games, Construction, and Creative Play
Moving down the pyramid to the next section, which should take up less of your child’s time than the ‘superfoods’ section, we come to activities such as board games, construction and creative play. Board games are good for enhancing problem-solving skills and strategic planning, they also encourage children to socialise, take turns and even help with bonding. Construction activities such as building with Lego or blocks help to develop spatial awareness, fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. These activities also nurture patience and perseverance as children meet challenges trying to achieve their ‘vision’. Creative play can include many different types of activities such as arts and crafts, storytelling, and roleplaying, which all help to develop many different and valuable skills such as emotional intelligence, self-expression and imagination.
Knowledge and Solitude: The Impact of Educational Toys and Quiet Play
The next section down on the pyramid includes educational toys which encourage activities that are designed to teach something specific such as maths or writing skills and also quiet/solitary play. Educational toys, from jigsaw puzzles that promote problem solving to science kits that spark curiosity, are designed to help children explore concepts and develop their knowledge while having fun. They encourage independent thinking, boost concentration skills, and develop a thirst for knowledge. Quiet solitary play, on the other hand, allows children to build emotional resilience and a sense of contentment in their own company. Playing on their own also helps children to learn self-reliance which is an important life skill for them to develop that will be invaluable as they grow up and begin to venture out into the world.
Balancing Screen Time: Navigating the ‘Sweets and Treats’ of the Play Pyramid
The last and smallest of sections is the ‘sweets and treats’ part of the pyramid; passive, sedentary screen time which could include watching TV and playing solitary video games. These activities need to be rationed, but it doesn’t mean that all screen time is bad. Screen time can allow children to be creative, if they are building worlds in Minecraft for example, social if they are interacting with friends, and even active if they are using a Geocaching app or similar. It’s not the screen that determines whether an activity is good or bad; it’s the play patterns that it encourages.
The Play Pyramid is a tool for parents to help make informed decisions about what’s right for their child. Children come in all shapes and sizes – just as some eat more than others, and some have allergies, there are unique considerations for each family as to what works best in the area of play for them and how to get the balance right. If for example, you can’t get outside as much as you’d like, there are other ways to help your child be active, such as dancing or yoga. The trick is to focus on the whole child and take a holistic approach. Mix up what activity your child is doing with where they’re doing it and who they’re doing it with, this will ensure they have many different opportunities to develop many different skills. Encouraging your child to play outdoors freely and imaginatively with their peers as often as possible is one of the best things you can do to aid their development, helping them to be fit and healthy, learn the skills to make friends, and even succeed at school.