You’ll hopefully know by now that here at My First Five Years we are all about play. But you might be surprised to know that play is definitely not just for children. There are many scientific studies that have researched the importance and power of play for all ages. Dr Stuart Brown, a leading researcher on play, says that “we are built to play and built by play,” and according to Scott G. Eberle (editor of The American Journal of Play), “We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up… play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem-solving, creativity and relationships.”
I’m Cath, one of the My First Five Years content team. Before joining My First Five Years I taught under-fives for 25 years, so my working life has been filled with play. At My First Five Years, we are all about information for parents supported by research, so what does the research tell us about playing with our children?
I am sitting in our front room, half-dressed as a princess (I cannot fit the costume over my head properly so it is currently looking like a synthetic, glittery straitjacket for misbehaving grown-ups). My three-year-old is serving me plastic cake from a small red plate. I say serving me, often he is insisting that I put the grotty-looking thing into my mouth and when I resist, he shouts toddler obscenities at me. He’s like a very pushy parent (?) and I am counting down the minutes until I can escape and make a cup of tea, or put the washing away, or do anything other than another second of this role play.
If your toddler holds a toy brick to their ear, speaks for a moment, and then hands it to you, you probably hold the brick to your ear and immediately start a conversation with the person on the other end of the ‘phone’. I have lost count of how many imaginary cups of tea I have drunk or pretend cakes I have eaten over the years! We expect our children to pretend and expect to be brought into their play, pretend play is amazing and supports children’s development in many ways. In this blog, I am going to focus on the role of pretend and fantasy play in supporting cognitive development.