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CREATIVE PLAY – The Essential Work of Childhood, by Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D.

Why is Creative Play so Important for Children?

Playfulness and creativity is fundamental to human development throughout the life cycle.  From toddler-hood through well into elementary school, creative play is an essential and necessary ingredient for healthy social, emotional and cognitive child development.  Through pretend play, children develop higher-level, abstract and creative thinking, and enhance their problem-solving and emotional coping skills.  Creative play promotes language skills and advances social, interpersonal, and emotional development.  Creative play allows children to imagine, practice and to prepare for all new experiences.  Creative play sets the stage for all kinds of future development. For every child, play is important work that sets the stage for a lifetime of success.

Creative Play is the Work of Early Childhood.

Children require creative play in order to develop the skills they will need to imagine, prepare for, and to be successful in all of the typical childhood experiences and challenges they will encounter.  Creative play is critical in helping children to learn to deal with everyday challenges of life.  When children are able to “create” imaginary as well as real life scenarios through creative play, they are able to overcome the challenges of succeeding in these experiences – in real life. Through creative play, children gain confidence and a sense of security, while pretending to be super-heros, magical characters, parents, teachers, and wherever else their imaginations will take them.   From this creative play, children naturally develop stress management skills and a positive sense of identity and confidence.  Creative play allows children to consider new ideas, to develop emotional coping skills and problem-solving skills, and to strengthen independent, creative thinking – skills which are vital to success in life.

Who Needs Creative Play?

Every child benefits from engaging in creative play. Creative play – that is, play in which a child uses his/her imagination to actively initiate play is an essential element for optimal social, emotional and intellectual development for all children. It is through this type of quality, rich creative play, that children maximize their opportunity for developing healthy and successful language, cognitive, social and emotional skills.

What are The Necessary Ingredients for Quality Creative Play?

The life of a typical child in the United States is highly scheduled with various structured activities, each of which can be beneficial.   However, at the same time, these activities have increasingly replaced opportunities for creative play.  Children, as well as their parents, lead busier lives and find less time to play. Children need time to play with toys that allow them to initiate and to express their own creative ideas, and to let their imagination flow free.    Creative play involves simple toys such as blocks, cars and trains, dolls, simple dress-ups, art supplies, pretend telephones, etc., which allow children to recreate their everyday experiences and express their imaginary ideas. Through this play, children gain the opportunity to master the natural and universal challenges and demands of growing up.

Easy Creative Play Activities

These creative play activities offer rich opportunities to promote social, emotional and cognitive development – along with wonderful ways to bond with your child.

Playing Family – Children LOVE to be like you, Mommy and Daddy.  No elaborate items needed – just a few simple props: (an old briefcase or pocketbook, costume jewelry, Daddy’s necktie, Mommy’s scarf) so that your child can enjoy “being just like Mommy – or Daddy”.

Playing School – Your child will be thrilled to be the “pretend teacher” and have you as his/her student.  You’ll learn so much about your child’s school days while your child is “acting out” the school day.

Playing Superheros – When a child imagines he/she is a superhero, or magical character, he/she benefits from enhanced feelings of confidence and strength, which allow the child to feel more secure and able to meet challenges in real life.

Playing Prince and Princess – Emotional problem-solving and social skills are practiced and developed through creative play.  Play allows for relief from everyday stress and a rich opportunity to grow social and emotional skills necessary in everyday life.

Did you know…It’s Never Too Early to Begin

As soon as a baby is able to engage is the play of “Peak-a-Boo”, the baby is building major cognitive concepts related to creating an understanding that objects – and people – exist, even when out of sight.   These experiences allow a child to gain familiarity and comfort with separation from parents and other loved ones.  These emotional building blocks continue to be further strengthened and reinforced through older child games of “Hide-and-Seek” and “Lost-and-Found”.   As we can see, playing is essential and extremely valuable to the happy and healthy development of all children.

About the author:

Rebecca Landau-Millin, Psy.D. (www.drlandaumillin.com) is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from The George Washington University. Dr. Landau-Millin helps young children, teens, and adults, and also provides parenting consultations and couples’ therapy.   For more information, please contact Dr. Landau-Millin at (301) 922-1114 or at [email protected]

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