The Power of Play
When it comes to mental health and development, play is important in a child’s day-to-day learning. Play can enhance your child’s brain and life in many ways. According to healthychildren.org, the average preschooler now watches up to 4.5 hours of television each day! This is a problem because research also shows that when a child spends more time with unstructured play, or play without an adult’s guidance, it can improve the child’s ability to get along with peers socially, plan and organize their lives, and help children learn how to regulate their own emotions.
When choosing a child’s daycare or preschool, find one that includes unstructured play time in their schedules, allowing them to play with peers and take the lead in their education. There are many resources, such as the app CarePass that can help you find a preschool or daycare that is right for your child. You can also schedule play dates, which allow for an increase in unstructured play time in your child’s schedule. This time encourages your child to strengthen interpersonal relationships, increases problem solving skills amongst peers without adult intervention, and increases social skills!
Believe it or not, your little one can feel the stressors you’re carrying in your life and carry it with them too. By scheduling playtime over electronic time, your child can teach themselves to manage stress by using their creativity and imaginations through play. Encourage your child to play with neighborhood children, sign them up for a sports team or club, or socialize them with their cousins regularly so that they can prevent social anxieties they may feel before entering preschool or kindergarten! Yes, your little one may feel social anxieties in group settings with their peers, so make sure they have experience interacting with children their age without adult interruption. This will allow your child to feel confident and make friends more easily!
One example of the importance of unstructured play among children can be illustrated when our neighbors fostered a young girl who they ended up adopting after a few short months, adding to their family which already included two young daughters of their own. At first, their young adopted child was sheepish and quiet, but an incredibly lovely addition to our neighbors’ family. Every afternoon after school, my two daughters would play with the three neighbor girls, running around our backyards, playing jungle, princesses, astronauts, and other imaginative games. It wasn’t long before the neighbors’ new daughter broke out of her shell, and ran and yelled just as wildly as the rest of them. This regular unstructured playtime allowed this young girl to become herself around her peers, it encouraged the children to be children, and allowed everyone to express themselves and bond. If the girls had simply sat around the television or iPads every day, they would not have had the chance to become the close friends that they are today. Playtime has a way of creating friendships and building community in a beautiful and effortless way.
Creative Ways to Encourage Unstructured Play Time for Your Child:
- Use a laundry basket as a rocket ship.
- Use sidewalk chalk to play hopscotch or draw pictures with neighborhood kids.
- Create a game night for your family by allowing them to make their own board games.
- Host a talent show run by your children, encouraging them to make their own choreographed dances, costumes, admission tickets, and performance itineraries.
- Make a water park in your own backyard by setting up sprinklers, kiddie pools, or slip ‘n’ slides.
- Create a store with household items, paper money, and advertisements made of paper or cardboard.
Another reason play time is so crucial to your child’s development is that it encourages kinesthetic learning, or “hands-on” learning. This type of learning involves movement and actions, such as drawing, playing outside, or building activities. Kinesthetic learning is important because it can help your child to learn faster by carrying out actions, which allows them to retain information easier. For example, by carrying out the process of a science experiment first-hand, your child is likely to remember what they learned, rather than just watching it on T.V.
Here are some creative ways to get your child moving and learning through kinesthetic education:
- Use cardboard or wood to create an activity station or “busy board” with detachable velcro, bells, shoelaces, locks, magnets, and other tools, like this one here.
- Conduct science experiments, such as silly putty, with household items, or order science kits online.
- Create an obstacle course in your backyard.
- Play with Playdoh, pipe cleaners, or building blocks to create self portraits, or other fun pictures.
- Create a scavenger hunt indoors.
- Use flashcards to teach your children fundamental words, math, or other topics.
Overall, scheduling play time into your child’s schedule may seem like a no-brainer, but in today’s society where technology is just an arm’s length away at all times, its importance can easily become muddled by convenience. Unstructured play time is crucial to your child’s brain development, social development, and education. Kinesthetic activities can also improve your child’s learning efficiency and memory. But, maybe more importantly, it allows your child to create lifelong memories, and for you to create heartwarming memories too, that can not come from watching television.
My two daughters shared a bedroom when they were little that was right across from ours. I remember that my husband would hear the girls giggling far past their bedtime and ask me if he should tell them to go to sleep. My response was always “no.” The girls’ laughter was the most beautiful sound I could ever hear. These are the sounds and the memories I still have with me now that they are grown and have moved away. I still hear those giggles and will treasure them always.
It is easy in this modern age to get caught up in the many stressors of life and busy schedules, but refrain from sitting your child in front of a television or tablet whenever possible. Laugh when you can, encourage independent play time when possible, throw on that superhero cape or grab hold of that fairy wand, and just spend time playing. I promise you will never regret it!
the power of play