Play is a vital for a child’s social and emotional development. Play is tactile, it’s interactive, and it is yet another way for children to understand the world around them. In early childhood, our babies are lone wolves. They play alone, they don’t care about interacting with others, they’re inherently egocentric. This moves, in toddlerhood, to side-by-side, parallel play. Here, social skills begin to develop, because our children gain an awareness of the concept of play. He grabs his toy, she grabs hers, and they play around each other, but not with each other.
As our toddlers grow, they begin to interact in what is considered associative play. Social skills are strengthening, and they begin to relate to other children. They begin to participate in activities. However, rules are not developed in associative play. The interactions are not organized. For the most part, our children are acting as individuals. They are talking, communicating, and giggling, together.
These are the easy years of play. We teach our children the value of sharing, we soothe hurt feelings, and we remain prevalent during their playtime activities. Because, as parents, we understand the importance of play. Our children are learning how to cope with their emotions. They are beginning to broaden their imaginations, act out circumstances that will help them face fears, or doubts, and build concepts of teamwork.
They move through these steps, until the preschool and Kindergarten years, when they start to formulate ideas of cooperative play. Our children issue commands, dole out roles, set rules that only make sense to them, and try to conquer mountains within the confines of the backyard. The problem with cooperative play? Our children are now individuals. They are tiny humans with huge emotions. They know what they want, and how they want it, without exception.