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Playtime is a crucial part of your child’s emotional, social, and physical development. But it is about much more than having fun.
Play is vital at every stage of childhood.
Young babies can learn a lot just by passing a rattle from one hand to another - watching it, feeling it, and hearing it. This simple play activity helps the nervous system coordinate hearing, hand and arm muscles, and eye impulses; there’s a lot of learning occurring with the simple shake of a rattle!
Toddlers’ play helps develop coordination, muscle strength, and balance through climbing, running, falling, and getting back up again. They learn to manage the emotional surprise of the fall, manage minor pain, and develop resilience
School age kids left to create their own fun are incredibly creative. Make-pretend play like playing “school” or “store” and snow fort building, art projects or tag-type games allow kids to make the rules and assign jobs which require negotiation skills and thinking on their feet. All of the above involve more physical activity than sitting in front of the TV.
Older children benefit from being involved in team sports or other organized group activities like band or drama. By being part of a team, teens learn that practice requires hard work and dedication, that loss requires one to get up and try again, and that persistence pays off with improved performance. As a team member, teens gain a sense of belonging critical to self-esteem. The community of team sports and the team mentality is transferable to the workplace and family life in the future.
For children to really benefit from play, it is important for you as a parent to give your child time to play in a safe space. While children must be supervised, do so from a distance. Allowing children to use their imagination will be most beneficial for their development. Try letting the play take a natural course and see where it flows, redirecting only if needed.
Some ideas for parents to set the groundwork for creative play:
There is a difference between creative play and screen time. In today’s world, children spend a lot of time in front of screens, whether it be television or smartphones, video games or social media. While some of this technology can certainly have its benefits for learning and development, too much screen time can have a downside.
Research has shown that excessive screen time is associated with pediatric obesity, poor sleep, and behavioral problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for children older than five, and one hour of high quality programming for children ages two to five. Children 18 to 24 months should have only parent-supervised quality programming, so the toddlers understand what they are viewing, and no digital media for babies less than 18 months.
Sometimes children may have too many scheduled activities. Between school, homework, lessons, and sports, children may not get enough free playtime. Being overscheduled can create an unhealthy amount of stress when there is little time to decompress and just let their minds relax and flow. This can lead to anxiety and even depression in children.
It’s important to find that balance between scheduled activities like school, sports, and lessons, and unstructured playtime away from screens. Remember, every child has different needs, but all of them need unstructured playtime.