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The Importance of Play

The Importance of Play
August 5, 2021

Tafadzwa (she/her) is a 2021 Social Connectedness Fellow working with Motheo Training Institute Trust. She holds a Master of Social Science in Development Studies, an Honours degree in Development Studies and a Bachelor of Social Science in Industry Sociology and Labour Studies from the University of Pretoria. She was born in Zimbabwe where she spent her early childhood, Tafadzwa subsequently relocated to South Africa in her teenage years to pursue her tertiary education. Tafadzwa is passionate about research and the development of children and youth. She aspires to pursue a PHD in Sociology, become a research professional and combat hindrances around youth and child development.

Why is play between parents and children so important?

Play is an important part of a child’s early development.  While children do need time to play alone and with other children without adult intervention, playtime with parents is equally important, and tends to be undervalued. Play between the parent and child is very important for both a child’s early development and for broader social connectedness. This is because it has long-term effects on the well-being of the child and their personal relationships. Play is an excellent form of bonding between a parent and child. It creates relationships between children and parents which are cemented for a lifetime. Fulfilling relationships and bonds are critical to a child’s well-being which are the physical, behavioral, social, and cognitive areas of a child.

What are the current challenges around play?

In low resource families, where parents tend to work long hours, access to toys and the ability for parents to make time to play with their children can be limited. There is a myth that “playing is only for children, “ therefore parents only leave children to play alone or with other children. In some cultures, children are raised and taught to assist with household chores and running a parent’s business, and that is how they interact with parents, instead of through play. In many middle and upper-class homes, technology has taken a rise and replaced the importance of play. Children have phones, tablets, TV, and video games. They spend time playing games and watching TV shows, while parents concurrently make use of their smartphones. The result is no play between the parent and the child, creating a  “couch potato” syndrome. When the latter occurs, it affects a child’s self-esteem, their sense of belonging, and creates a weaker bond between the parent and child, which often remains the case when the child becomes older. 

What are the solutions to improve play? 

Parents do not need toys or expensive resources to play with their children. Simple household items, such as cups and spoons, can serve as toys. Some games require no equipment at all, such as; hide and seek, guess what I am?  running, dancing, and singing. There are many games that can be played without any equipment such as free play and pretend play; spreading knowledge to parents on what these games are is key. If one is a single parent or has one child they can occasionally invite family, neighbors, or friends over to play.

When parents are busy throughout the week, they can potentially schedule a game night /day with no use of technological gadgets, or quickly play with their children during bath or dressing time. The concept of play and parental involvement is solely based on a parent’s initiative. Parents must take some time to learn about play and how important it is for children through reading books, online content, watching videos, and acquiring the knowledge from the teachers. Play has never fundamentally changed over the years; the same games and playing habits a parent had when they were a child is what children do now, so it is a matter of parents engaging in the same games and activities they used to do when they were children.


When parents/guardians play with their children, it provides the child  with a  sense of belonging and makes them feel special, which builds their self esteem. This has a positive effect until they become an adult. We all build relationships and bonds when we spend time together, and for children, play is one key method utilized to spend time with them and build strong relationships. For infants and young children, especially, social isolation harms their chances of healthy physical and psychosocial development. Let’s spread this knowledge to all the parents and guardians  we know! If you are a parent or guardian, play with your child, and share this information with fellow parents and guardians.