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Playing with your children is one of the most wonderful and enjoyable things about being a parent.
Playing is also a vital part of the way babies and children grow and learn.
The time parents and children spend just having fun together provides a variety of learning opportunities, including:
l Helping children learn to trust and depend on their parents;
l Making children feel loved and secure;
l Helping children to integrate ideas as they learn to make sense of the world;
l Helping children and parents to get to know each other and bringing them closer.
Research on playing reveals that a child's environment and experiences - especially during the first three years of their lives - strongly influence their development.
Playing is one of the best ways for your children to learn, whether it is a planned activity you set up for them or "free-flow" playing, in which there is no plan and children play at their own pace.
Experts say a balance of organised and free-flow playing is best.
Playing tells you a lot about your children's personality and temperament.
Children get the most out of playing if they have the chance to explore a range of activities they are naturally drawn to. Playing is important in helping your children develop self-esteem and social skills.
Playing with other children increases your child's social competence and this is one of the advantages of playgroups and places such as child-care centres and pre-schools.
Playing unlocks the world of social relations for your children - a journey that lasts until adulthood, developing a "concept of self" and where they fit in - as a result of playing with other children.
Playing helps children develop an understanding of themselves and their own identity. Examples of this in action include:
l Imitating facial expressions or movements at an early age and becoming aware of themselves, or of their own images, in the mirror (between six and nine months); and
l Enjoying and being fascinated by their bodies, which is all part of natural curiosity.
How playing develops with your child:
lNewborns and babies - Your baby thinks of you as a most important play buddy. From birth, the carer that spends the most time with your child is the person that child looks up to and wants to play with most.
A child will look up to you for guidance on what is okay and safe to try out - often with just a quick glance at you to gauge your facial expression.
lToddlers - As toddlers' focus of the world expands, they will play more with other children.
Between now and pre-school age your child is likely to want to spend more time playing with other children. Playing at this age is about starting to explore relationships with others.
lPre-schoolers - At this age they want to play with other children. By age four or five years of age, they will want to play with friends as much as they want to play with you.
lSchool-age children - For school-age children, peer relationships are "it". Parents are still an important play buddy, but by now your children certainly look to playing with other children as much as they do with you. - Raising Children Network