"Playing" is an essential part of any child's healthy development. Play and learning go hand in hand, we as parents need to understand that learning should be FUN! Author Dr. Stuart Brown writes that play is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder – in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. When children are in charge of their own self-directed play, they build a strong foundation for many essential life skills. Exploration and discovery lead play and we as parents need to encourage unstructured playtime.
All kinds of play, from pretend to friendly fighting serves a critical role in every child’s development. Open-ended play gives children the opportunity to solve problems and exert self-control and follow rules. Play helps children learn social and emotional skills and benefits both the body and the brain. When children are involved in play with a physical component they are developing fundamental movement skills, such as balance, agility, and coordination. Play empowers children to use their creativity while developing their imagination. Play builds confidence and when children learn to do things for themselves it makes them feel accomplished. It is through play children that children learn how to learn.
With a healthy dose of play each day children have the opportunity to lead a healthy, happy, productive life.
Peter Gray, psychologist and research professor and author of author of Free to learn: Why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life, has written extensively about the gradual reduction in children’s opportunities to play over the last half-century. He is an authority on the benefits of play, below is his list of the five benefits of play:
FIVE WAYS PLAY BENEFITS KIDS
1. Play gives children a chance to find and develop a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests.
2. It is through play that children first learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules.
3. Children learn to handle their emotions, including anger and fear, during play.
4. Play helps children make friends and learn to get along with each other as equals.
5. Most importantly, play is a source of happiness.
Since children’s play has been on a decline, childhood mental health problems are increasing. The decline in play has also been characterized by a deterioration in children having empathy for others. Common reasons for the decline in open-ended play include safety concerns, helicopter parenting, overworked parents, and too long of a school day.
The widespread competitive pressure in schools and organized activities have pushed children over the edge and into a high anxiety environment. We need to make time for play, we need to make unstructured play our priority. Play develops children's social, cognitive and creative skills better than any flashcard set or worksheet. Get out the playthings! Here are ten ideas to get you started.
A Few PLAY Possibilities:
1. Arts & Crafts
4. Scavenger Hunt
6. Hide & Seek
8. Musical Chairs
9. Sand Tray