The importance of play in a digital era

When I think back to the playful part of my childhood, I have fond memories of making “mud cakes”, playing “tok-tokkie”, hiding-go-seek in neighbours gardens and climbing their trees. You could also freely ride your bicycle by yourself and around the block with your friends. Needless to say I had my childhood days during the 1980’s… fast forward 40 plus years and children’s freedom and desire to play outside has diminished due to increased awareness of various societal dangers along with the development of technology. For the Gen Z’s (children born 1996 -2010) they were born into the era of the smartphone, while Generation Alpha (children born after 2010) are deemed as being “digitally-native” as they don’t know a life without technology and the smartphone. 

For many Gen Z’s and Gen Alpha’s their first toy was a smartphone. Even though there are many positives to the development of technology and the use of digital devices, when we look at the impact this has had on child development and children’s go-to play medium there is research that suggests that technology can be a distraction for children and can lead to unhealthy habits such as spending too much time on devices and not enough time engaging in physical activity. This can further negatively impact their overall physical and mental well-being.

Why is play important?

Play is essential for children’s development and well-being. It helps children learn important skills, such as problem-solving, communication, and critical thinking. Play encourages creativity, physical health, and social-emotional development. Through play, children learn to express themselves, build relationships, and gain self-esteem. Play also helps children develop a sense of identity, explore their environment, and practice life skills such as sharing and cooperation. Providing a variety of play activities helps children explore their environment and develop a sense of identity.

What are the different types of play?
The different types of play include physical play, creative play, imaginative play, role-play, and social play. 

  • Physical play involves activities such as climbing, running, and hopping. 
  • Creative play involves activities such as drawing, painting, and making music. 
  • Imaginative play involves activities such as make-believe and pretending. 
  • Role-play involves activities such as playing dress-up and pretending to be someone else. 
  • Social play involves activities such as board games, card games and hiding-go-seek.

How can I encourage my child to play?

Play time with your child does not require you to buy your child expensive toys or taking them to various play places to make it effective. Think about what made your childhood fun and what you enjoyed playing with most.

Some tips to help guide you on having playtime with your child:

  1. Set a fixed time once a week for combine play time e.g. 30min (it can be more). Your child will start looking forward to this time. 
  2. Make sure you have put your smartphone down so that it is not a distraction.
  3. Introduce your child to age-appropriate different types of play mediums as they grow.
  4. Encourage your child to engage in using their imagination and playing with things you have in the house. The aim is not for you to spend large amounts of money on toys. 
  5. Joyfully engage with your child and allow them to lead the play, allowing you to view the world from their perspective.
  6. Expose your child to different play times, such as combine play time with you, play time with friends, family play time (Friday night board game night) and also encourage them to have alone play time such as reading, building puzzles, colouring in, or playing with playdough. 

Playful exploration is a child’s natural way of learning, as parents we need to ensure that we are providing our children with the opportunity to actively engage in play allowing them to use their innate skills in a digital era. Put play time on your to do list. Laughing and having fun through play boosts the overall well-being of both children and adults, leading to a happier family. Happy playing!

For more play ideas have a look at: