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Understanding the Importance of Play

We take for granted the importance of play for our children’s growth and development.

Often times parents are so focused on early academics, scheduling play dates, setting up Pinterest worthy crafts, enrolling their kids in organized sports, and entertaining them with flashy “educational” toys.

It makes sense that many parents get sucked into this as this is what our society has come to place above free and unstructured play. 

We need to understand the importance of play for our kids.

Play is HOW Kids Learn

It is how they develop the cognitive, social and emotional skills that allow them to succeed in all things. In a recent clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) titled “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children” the abstract states play is “a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain.”

So this concept is no joke.

The importance of play cannot be overstated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is actually having to PRESCRIBE AND ADVOCATE for play. 

This is what the AAP is recommending pediatricians do:

  1. Advocate for the protection of unstructured play because of it’s proven benefits in the development of motor skills that have lifelong benefits (such as preventing obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes)
  2. Advocate for educators to focus on play by allowing children to take the lead and follow their own curiosity
  3. Encourage educators to put a “premium” on building social-emotional and executive functioning skills
  4. Advocate for protecting recess time in schools

The Importance of Play Based Learning

We have become so obsessed with “educating” our children; extending their school day, shortening their recess, increasing homework, signing them up for enrichment classes and organized sports, trying to provide them with endless stimulation and educational activities at home.

Our society has forgotten that it is through play that children learn the process of learning.

All the learning a child needs in their early years can be accomplished through play.

What is play and why is it important?

There are four basic types of play:

Object play

When children explore objects to learn about their different properties.

Physical play

Using and developing gross motor skills by doing activities such as running, jumping, wrestling, spinning and climbing.

Outdoor play

Play that happens outdoors and allows children to improve sensory integration skills

Pretend play

When children are experimenting with different social roles, including dress up, make believe and imaginary play.

How much play do kids need?

Okay so the importance of play. We know kids NEED to play. But how many hours a day should we be shooting for? An occupational therapist and author of one of my favorite books, Angela Hanscom, says kids should be playing (ideally outside) for three hours a day.

That may seem impossible, especially given all the other commitments we tend to take on during the week but it’s time to make play a priority for our kids.

7 Tips for getting in those “play” hours

Break up the time

It doesn’t all have to be done at once. You can “schedule” play as you would any other activity. This may be needed if you are used to a very booked schedule of classes, mommy and me activities etc.

Unschedule your time

Instead of going to a scheduled activity invite a friend or two over. Don’t stress about finding people with kids the exact same age, in fact, mixed age play is great for kids development.

Don’t hover

Sit back and let your kids do the work. Enjoy a book, a conversation with a friend, do your nails….seriously anything but getting to involved in your kids play. You may feel guilty at first but they need time to engage in play without adults participating or directing.

Get Outside

Visit a local park, playground, hiking trail. You don’t have to have a specific activity planned–I guarantee your little one will be able to find things to do given the opportunity.

Evaluate your play space.

Is it conducive to independent play? Are your toys open ended?

If you need help with this, book a virtual consult! 

Get the right gear

Read this to make sure you have the right gear to play outside in all kinds of weather.  

Don’t let messes get to you (hard, I know!).

One of the best pieces of advice I was given specifically about kids and messes was….”there is no mess that can’t be cleaned up.”

And a note about messes, I generally enlist my children to help clean whatever mess they make so it’s a win win. They get to play and get messy without me freaking out, and I feel like they are being taught a valuable lesson in picking up after themselves and contributing to our household.

Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to play in ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

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