Children of all ages and stages love playing together in all sorts of ways for different reasons and to meet their individual needs.
Playing in groups comes naturally to us because as a race we are sociable and stick together for protection and to learn from each other.
Looking back you might remember playing with your siblings, cousins, friends and neighbours.
Whoever it was, you were interacting with them and learning how to function in this busy, hectic and wonderful world.
I remember going for long bike rides on the weekends with my brother, sister, my best friend and neighbours.
We would go to the park close(ish) to where we lived and ride down the hills, around the fishing pond, through the woods and along the river. We’d be gone all day and have to cross a few main roads to get there, which would be frowned on in today’s society.
If we fell and scraped our knee we’d brush it off and carry on. We’d go to the corner shop for sweets and take a packed lunch.
Get muddy. Laugh a lot. Cry sometimes…
Get annoyed at your brother for going too fast or at your friend for not going the route you wanted to go, but you’d work it out and have a great time!
We explored the world together, Carefree!
We helped each other, supported each other and had fun!
I encourage you to trust children to play with each other without constant adult supervision.
As long as they know you are there when they need you, they will reap so many benefits from this freedom and social interaction…
So here they are, my top ten advantages of children playing in groups (of other children):
#1 – Language
While playing with others children may hear language that they have not been introduced to previously and they’ll absorb this like a sponge!
The children they are playing with may have had a different upbringing, be further developed in their speaking or older and more experienced generally.
Either way, this is the most natural way for children to develop their language skills.
New vocabulary will continue to build daily as they are introduced to new experiences and surroundings with their peers.
Interacting in group play gives children time to experiment with this new acquired language and get feedback from their friends.
They will learn context, intonation, as well as humour and sarcasm…which I’m all for!
At around 3 years old (roughly – depending on their development and language abilities) children will start to mimic speech they have heard from adults.
(or anyone whose language is further developed)
Which sounds hilarious when you hear a 3 year old say “oh my, you gave me quite a fright there pickle”.
This mimicking of language helps children understand the world and how people communicate with each other in a polite or sometimes impolite manner, depending on how the people around them speak.
You might be thinking “ok, so I understand how playing in groups can benefit the lower level children, but what about the higher developed children?”
Children with a higher language ability will find that they need to articulate themselves in a certain way so that their lower level friends understand them.
This is a skill which is also learned in group play. This could help improve their own understanding of what they are trying to say and how to communicate more effectively with others.
#2 – Sharing
If a child doesn’t have siblings it might not be until they go to nursery (kindergarten) that they have to start sharing toys.
Learning to share is an important lesson when it comes to being accepted and integrating into society, your community and friendship groups.
Playing with other children and seeing their actions and reactions will show that if you want somebody to like you (which we all do), you have to be selfless sometimes and share.
The emotional development and friendships that this in turn may help to develop will be discussed further down.
When playing games in groups it will often involve some ground rules…
The ability to take turns and share will often be put into practice in games such as dominos, football and catch.
They rely on these basic skills.
If a child doesn’t want to share they may be excluded from the game and this will make them feel sad and isolated.
This feeling will likely stay with them and next time a similar opportunity presents itself they will hopefully remember that they should share.
Trial and Error!
Live and Learn!
Abiding by these rules will help them be accepted by their peers, into the game and therefore be able to play, learn and be happy
…everything that I’m about!
It is important as the adult not to interfere too much in these situations.
Obviously it isn’t nice to see a child upset, but the feeling of sadness is just as important as the feeling of happiness.
To keep them from this emotion is to keep them away from the learning experience that goes along with it and the personal growth they will get in turn.
#3 – Confidence
During play with children who are further developed in one way or another can be a motive for children to step up their game and try harder.
This competitive edge may help children to reach their full potential they weren’t aware they could reach, giving them a sense of achievement and confidence.
Through these other children they may also learn lessons they haven’t had the chance to experiment with and learn while playing independently.
All children have different experiences and playing together means they pass on knowledge and learn from each other.
The further developed child gains confidence by feeling proud of themselves for teaching another child and passing on their wisdom, and the other child gets the wisdom!
Not knowing that you could do something and then crushing it, is very empowering and makes you feel great!
No matter how similar we appear to be, we are all living our own lives and the smallest thing can make a big impact on our experiences and self-esteem.
I believe we all have a natural interest in others.
It can help us understand another point of view and why people act in different ways.
For example, if a child is raised in a Muslim household and that is all they have known in their community, they would benefit from going to a multicultural school or youth group where they can play with children from different cultural backgrounds.
This will give them the opportunity to learn about other cultures and religions directly from people their own age who follow different ways of life.
As well as being able to inform others of their own culture, experiences and traditions proudly!
(This will be discussed in #4)
When you feel comfortable and confident in yourself and your abilities, you are going to feel happy and relaxed
– No one likes to be stressed!
#4 – New Experiences
If you know me, you know I like everyone to be sure of who they are…
but also with a massive open mind too!
New experiences and ideas make you think and grow as a person
– That’s everyone, not just kids!
When playing with others, children can see different methods, cultures, foods, languages, religions, priorities and so much more.
It’s because of the people we meet and our interactions with them that we become aware of how much more there is out there.
More than what is in your house, school, and community or even country or continent
– You get the picture…
Variation in play opportunities is a world of wonder for a child.
Introducing our differences (even within our own culture) at an early age can help children realise that it is our differences that make our world such a fascinating and beautiful place.
Integration can teach children that even though they have a friend who is autistic, or colour blind or in a wheelchair, they still play, have fun and learn just like they do.
We are fundamentally all the same, human.
Sometimes new experiences and ideas can be confusing and hard to grasp.
When playing with others children can experiment and test boundaries in the safety of ‘play’.
Not all experiences are good, but it is equally as important to experience the bad along with the good.
Unfortunately life isn’t perfect, and children need to be prepared.
Through group play children can say things and ask questions, which some may perceive as rude or insulting, but are actually the child educating themselves and wanting to understand different ways of life and where their morals lay.
In order to know something is wrong you have to think about it and to an extent learn from experience.
We know that murder is wrong because we can empathise and we don’t want any harm to come to ourselves or others… but we don’t have to practice to know that it’s wrong.
#5 – Build Friendships
By playing with others, asking questions and getting to know different people, children will make friends.
It is one of the things I think adults miss about being children
-It seems they make friends very easily.
The truth is that children are less self-conscious, because they have no need to be.
Society hasn’t convinced them of what they should aspire to be yet.
They are also genuinely interested in people and with this shared curiosity they play
The best ice-breaker is play!
Some of these friendships will last a lifetime.
When I was 2 years old a boy called Luke moved next door and we soon became friends, as you do, and over time we became best friends. We were inseparable.
We would play together every day after school and every day during the holidays, along with our siblings and their friends.
He even came on holiday with me and my family. We’ve been through a lot together.
We had a paper round that we shared, when his parents moved to Oxford we would speak on the phone most nights and going to visit him was my first time traveling without my parents. I visited him again when he moved to Cornwall living in his trailer with all the dead flies, haha.
I cried at his wedding and have had the joy of meeting his first son and I can’t wait to meet the newest member of his family when I get back from Korea!
Even though we only see each other every few years as adults, true friendship doesn’t need to be validated every day. It’s just mutually known.
#6 – Team Work
As children play they are learning together and from each other, and working as a team.
When playing in a group children divide tasks based on preferences or ability.
There will be disagreements with both from time to time but this is all part of the process and children need to be given the chance to fight their corner and voice their preferences.
This is how children learn to negotiate.
Through observation of adults or peers they learn management and leadership skills.
However not everyone is a born leader.
We all have the potential but we don’t all have the drive, ambition, or emotional ability. Especially at a young age, and this is ok.
Part of being a team player is following instructions and doing what is best for the collective and not just yourself.
All members are equal and a good leader listens to all before making a decision, this is an important lesson to learn.
Children will quickly learn that if, as a leader if they don’t listen to all members of the group those people will not listen to them.
Working with others to achieve a common goal will give them a sense of accomplishment and pride that they can share and rejoice in together.
Being a team player is difficult at first because children are more self-involved, they have to be, it’s a survival mechanism to look out for number one.
This is until they learn empathy, which is one of the great advantages of children playing in groups with their peers.
They will see how their actions affect others.
When they see how they affect others positively, and their empathy grows along with positive reinforcement such as friendships and endorphins, they will have the confidence and ability to be a valuable member of the team, supporting and helping in group efforts.
#7 – Energy
Have you ever noticed that you can be at home all calm and cosy and then you go out with your friends and you have new found energy?
This is the same with children.
Generally speaking when children play in a group they will be more energetic because they have to speak louder to be heard. There are more personalities in competition with the spot-light. There are also more ideas and opinions floating around so the play is more likely to change direction quickly, both in aim and space.
As a result of this added energy children will sleep better and therefore learn more effectively as a result.
However it is also possible, like any of us, for children to burn out.
By this I mean expand too much energy and become lethargic. We can only go so long before we need to refuel.
This refuelling can be stopping for a quick snack and a drink or having some down time to play independently (Read this for the benefits of independent play) or taking a nap.
Generally speaking the older the child, the longer they can go without refuelling (but everyone is different).
#8 – Emotional Support
Remember me saying earlier that if I fell over and scraped my knee on our bike ride I would brush it off and carry on? That wasn’t before somebody had a look at it and said “ow, that must have hurt, are you ok?”
We were there for each other.
If anything serious had happened (which would happen from time to time)
I knew that someone would stay with me and someone would go and get help if it was needed… but usually I would just say “yeah, it’s not bleeding” and carry on (unless I was being a drama queen).
Being in a group and surrounded by their peers as they play will mean that, through the friendships they create, they will have an emotional support system with them.
Playing in a group can also help children with emotional management. When playing in a group children will not always get their own way and at times this will be frustrating.
On the other hand, children may also become over excited and use up all their energy. With experience and practice children will be able to learn self-control and be able to manage their emotions more easily and take themselves out of situations that become uncomfortable if possible.
#9 – Risk
I believe risk is vital in play.
Risk isn’t only about jumping from something high and hoping you don’t hurt yourself, it could also be going up to someone you haven’t spoken to before and starting a conversation.
The risk in this situation doesn’t seem to dangerous, right? But, any situation in which you don’t know the outcome and there is a chance it could end negatively is a risk.
Risk is important because getting out of your comfort zone is important, that is how you learn things, gain experiences and make friends.
Children are much better at this than adults, for reasons I have already mentioned…they have more self-confidence, etc.
When children play they will naturally test each other’s boundaries, as well as their own. This could be physically, educationally or emotionally. It is only through these challenges that we really know what we are capable of.
So the next time you want to intervene in a child’s play because it’s ‘risky’ think about how their play is benefiting them and how that relates to what you see as danger.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with like-minded people and ask any questions you may have in the comments.
Last week I discussed the benefits of children playing independently so if you’d like to read that please click here.
This weekend I have been in Beijing, China!
I went to the Great Wall, had peaking Duck and visited the Forbidden City!
This week I will be in Siem Reap, Cambodia!
Making memories, learning and playing around the world!
How did you play today?
- Play memes!
- #5 Reasons Children Are Repetitive
- #5 Reasons Children Need To Experiment With Risk During Play
- #10 Advantages Of Competitive Play
- #9 Benefits Of Children Playing In Groups