When we think about play, most of us probably don’t give the concept the respect that it deserves. Other words and phrases used instead of play include frolic, clown, romp, carouse, horsing around and the ever-popular messing around. Play is often combined with phrases like stop playing around, and you’re playing me. None of these have a great connotation, so let’s face it, play has a bad reputation.
In reality, play is one of the single most important factors necessary for healthy child development. It ranks right up there with affection, safety, and stable relationships. Play contributes to child development in many ways. It develops social, cognitive, and listening skills as well as physical health, relationships, and it increases a child’s vocabulary. Most importantly, play is how children are naturally wired to deal with stress!
Play is so vital for our children that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as a right of every child. But in today’s world, our children are challenged to get enough playtime, and studies show that the amount of play declines every year. If children don’t get enough playtime, it can negatively affect their development.
When children play, they develop imagination, confidence, language, teamwork, sharing, and many other skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of our students and their ability to solve problems. Some theories say that play is how children put everything they have learned together and then experiment with how it all works for them as an individual. They’re practicing for life.
Reasons for reduced playtime are many, and I’m sure you will recognize some of these things in your own life. Hurried lifestyle, college acceptance stress, family structure changes, after-school programs, homework, sports, test concerns, and an increased focus on math and reading all can take away from playtime. Don’t forget the most egregious attackers of playtime; television, computers, smartphones, and video games. Also, if a child is living in poverty, play can be limited by neighborhood violence, limited resources, and sometimes merely a safe place to play or proper supervision.
Here are some tips about how to make sure your child gets enough playtime:
- Make sure you let your children engage in free play as much as possible every day.
- Make a playtime schedule that allows your children plenty of free play or child-driven play.
- Try to give your children as much outdoor playtime as possible.
- Schedule a regular family play night.
- Emphasize active play rather than passive activities like video games or cell phones.
- Organized regular playgroups or playdates.
- Make sure your child’s schedule is not overwhelming.
- Give young children access to simple objects that can enhance creative play like wooden spoons, blocks, balls, puzzles, crayons, and boxes.
Play is an essential part of every child’s development. The appropriate balance of play, academics, social-enrichment, and parent interaction will be different for each child. The needs of the child will determine the amount and types of play needed for optimal development. Parents should play with their kids and allow playtime whenever possible, especially outdoors. Let’s work together to help play regain the importance it deserves. If you want to learn more about the importance of play, the American Academy of Pediatrics is a great place to start, visit them at https://www.aap.org/.