“In our play we reveal what kind of people we are.”
There are several important benefits children derive from play that are not seen on the surface. One of these is a child’s emotional development, and free play is an important key to a child’s emotional growth.
Research has pointed to three areas where play helps children develop emotionally:
- Building self-confidence and esteem
- Experimenting with various emotions
- Releasing emotions from trauma
Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
Free play encourages children to develop skills that build self-confidence and self-esteem, such as risk-taking, conflict resolution and imaginative dramatic play. Playground equipment like climbers and overhead hanging apparatuses presents kids with physical challenges, which build a sense of accomplishment that leads to higher self-esteem.
Social development with other children, and the ability to play on their own, can also be important factors in building self-confidence.
Experimenting with Emotions
Research has shown children use free play to express their emotions and to learn to deal with their fears and scary experiences. Free play allows children to express themselves completely, without holding back. Certain playground equipment fosters experimentation, like tunnels and enclosed spaces, where kids can simulate being in a house, car or school.
During free play, kids can use imaginative or pretend play to experience different feelings and outcomes. This allows them to break out of the limitations of their reality and experience new things. These experiences and feelings change as a child grows older. Preschoolers develop emotional strength and stability while older children develop spontaneity and humor.
Releasing Emotions from Trauma
Play has also proven to be therapeutic for children who have emotional wounds from trauma, including child abuse, family disruptions, and children who experience the effects of natural disaster or war. Specialists’ studies have shown that through play, children can release emotions and “play out” their traumas, while developing a sense of safety so they can share feelings freely.
Encouraging children to express themselves freely during play is as important as encouraging good physical health.
“Play is the highest form of research.”