Posted: Oct 15, 2012 1:32 AM
Play is so essential to children that it's been recognized by the United Nations Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Unfortunately, sometimes in today's society kids spend more time with passive entertainment (such as watching TV or playing video games) rather than active play.

Playtime offers more benefits than just fun. Free play, as well as guided play, can enhance learning, improve problem solving skills and stimulate your child's imagination. Play and learning go hand in hand because many of the core elements of play provide the foundation for learning. Discovery, novelty, socialization, and trial and error are all keys to both play and learning.

Create a learning environment

Surround your child with the right toys, games and other objects to create an environment conducive to learning. When selecting toys for your child, pick items that will not only entertain and engage him, but also help improve cognitive, emotional, physical and social development.

Balls^ For young children, balls are essential. They improve your child's hand-eye coordination as he learns to throw, catch and kick. Playing with balls with others kids also promotes socialization and sharing.

Blocks^ Blocks are also a must for young kids. Blocks enhance fine motor skills, plus they can also be used to teach your child about colors, shapes, counting and sequencing.

Books^ Of course books are an essential component to learning. You should always have books all over your house -- in your child's bedroom, the living area and playroom. Read to your child daily from the time he is born and supply him with colorful, interesting books to explore.

Dress-Up^ Dress-up clothes, hand puppets and pots and pans, as well as action figures and small cars encourage imaginative play. Stimulating your child's imagination is important to help develop his creativity, language, self-confidence and other areas of development.

Types of play

Children can play alone, play in a group with other children but without much interaction, or actively play with other kids in a group -- sharing the same experience. A number of forms of play exist, and with all of them, you can incorporate learning.

COnstructive Play^ With constructive play, children are making something -- such as building a tower with blocks or putting together a puzzle. Constructive play is beneficial to fine motor development and also enhances problem-solving capabilities.

Creative Play^ Creative play prompts your child to express his own ideas and experiment with different mediums. Encouraging creative play is simple. Supply your child with beads, crayons, glue, markers, paper, paints, play dough, scissors and other items that allow him to create.

Discovery Play^ Encourage your child to explore outdoors through discovery play. Allow him to play in the sandbox... or even just in the dirt. Playing with water tables, digging in the garden and taking nature walks are also great for discovery play.

Physical Play^ Physical play is important to develop your child's gross motor skills, balance and coordination. Physical play using slides, swings, tunnels, trampolines is a lot of fun for children, and also stimulates their sense of adventure -- another key to learning.

Back to basics

Games are very beneficial for learning too. And when it comes to games, some of the old school games you played as a kid are the best -- follow the leader, hide-and-seek, leap frog and tag. Also, play simple board games with your children: Candyland, Life, Monopoly and Risk are great choices, depending on the age of your children.

In the digital age, you can't stop your kids from wanting to watch TV, play video games and use computers. So instead of shunning these items completely, incorporate them into play and learning in moderation. Make a rule in your house that for every hour of screen time, your children must play two hours actively outdoors. If you allow your kids to watch TV, choose the shows wisely: Discovery Channel, History Channel and PBS are all terrific options. When downloading apps or purchasing video games for your kids, make sure that there is an educational component to the games as well.

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