Child Psychologists Promoting Play Therapy in Denver
As they develop, young children cultivate their thinking and understanding of the world around them through their experiences. In a safe context, children can interact with their environment in order to practice and integrate ideas and behaviors. Play helps children develop healthy attention and problem-solving abilities, social skills, and complex play strategies.
Attention and Memory
“It’s like riding a bike.” There is something to be said about this adage. Why is learning to ride a bike representative of permanently engrained knowledge? Perhaps because it activates multiple senses. Rather than using spoken language (words) in isolation, children who experience in play settings significantly increase their ability to attend and remember.
When playing with your child, you inherently involve all her senses. Children take in their environment through visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile modalities. Using more than one sense adds stimulation to learning. As Moyles explains in her book Beginning Teaching, Beginning Learning, the more senses a child activates, the more learning occurs—and the more memory is improved.
Have you ever been amazed, acutely aware of the complexity of your child working out a seemingly simple problem? As Peter approached a mound of various-sized boulders he came across wobbly rocks, handholds just out of reach, or steps that simply felt too risky. Each time he encountered an obstruction, he made adjustments as needed—repositioned his feet to stabilize, found rocks to use as handholds and, eventually, successfully reached the summit!
When a child experiences a problem–big or small—he must employ complex thinking skills: identifying the problem, planning what needs to be done, executing that plan, deciding what worked and what didn’t, and making changes as needed. These are skills that cannot be taught in isolation—instead, they can best (and sometimes only) be taught through play. Through play, children are able to develop a range of strategies to solve problems.
Charlie saw his brother upset. He walked over to give him a hug, offer words of encouragement and make silly faces—causing his little brother to laugh uncontrollably. How often do we attribute our child’s behaviors to a caregiver? Charlie has learned through play that others have feelings and that actions can intentionally elicit emotions.
Humans are naturally social creatures—and that desire for human connection begins even before birth. Children’s play acts as an incredible opportunity for children to learn and understand how and why people act the way they do in different circumstances. Through play, children learn “If I do this, mom and dad will smile… They must like it!” Being able to read caregivers’ emotions and desires is the foundation for operating in social situations with peers.
“Would you like a Frappuccino?” Margot offers as she sits in the tub using cups, bathwater, and bubbles to prepare a frosty, cold, blended coffee beverage for her mother. Her ability to transform cups into blenders, bathwater in to milk, and bubbles into coffee demonstrates her complexity of play.
Believe it or not, dramatic play is a building block to literacy development in children. Besides developing vocabulary (talking about what they are pretending) and comprehension (reenacting stories they’ve been read), play teaches children that one thing (a cup) can represent another (a blender). Research has shown a relationship between a child’s ability to pretend play and his capacity to understand that letters represent written words in reading and writing. In fact, in The American Journal of Play Roskos reviewed several studies showing positive relationships between play and literacy success.
The Case for Play
Children are intrinsically inclined to play—perhaps for the very reason that play promotes the development of thinking, social and literacy skills. Play naturally engages a child’s multiple senses and, in doing so, lends itself to different kinds of growth and learning. Through play, children strengthen their attention and memory, problem solving, social, and even pre-academic skills. Just as children learn while playing, in these moments they are also able to demonstrate what they know—which skills they’ve solidified and which they are still figuring out. Play is essential to a child’s healthy development and the observation of play provides an optimal opportunity to assess cognition in young children.
The Children Assessment and Training Center of Denver promotes play therapy as one of our many forms of thorough child assessment. To schedule an assessment with our team, please contact us today! Call (303) 834-3493.