Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In Defense of Play

Grandpa and Grandma sent my daughters a little money in their Easter cards, and we went to the toy store yesterday. My six year-old bought a small Playmobil set (very small... Playmobil is expensive!). She took it home and used it - along with her dollhouse, pieces of dollhouse furniture, and Legos - to create a school. She played school, by herself, for a good hour.

She shared her creation with me, complete with a classroom, cafeteria, gym, nurse's station and even a teacher's lounge. When I told her I was proud of her, she gave me a funny look and said, "Why?" I was, of course, thankful that she was entertaining herself for so long. But I've also read headlines about how important play is for kids. So I replied, "Doctors say that play is good for you."

Again, "Why?"

And I didn't know. Thus the idea for my next post was born.

According to several sources, including the Alliance for Childhood and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), play has many benefits:
  • Enhanced physical development
  • Increased academic performance
  • Social and emotional learning
  • Successful medical treatment and emotional healing
  • Improved confidence, leadership skills and decision-making ability
The AAP cites guidelines for play, including 30 minutes of adult-led play and 60 minutes of unstructured play, although the timing can vary by the child's needs and abilities.

Good, solid playtime is often threatened by too much "screen time." According to the AAP:
Most pediatricians also warn against entertainment that fails to stimulate interaction or thought — especially television shows and computer games. “These tools and programs are heavily marketed, and many parents have unfortunately grown to believe that they are a requirement of good parenting and a necessity for appropriate development,” says Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
And the Alliance for Childhood points out that:
Computers have an important role in contemporary life, but in childhood we recommend first things first: real relationships with people and nature, real hands-on activities, and lots of time for child-initiated play and artistic activities.
Both organizations make suggestions to help increase playtime for your kids, and the tips always include reducing screen time. Other tips:
  • Choose simple toys. Toys that require imagination are great.
  • Encourage outdoor adventures.
  • Give your child a chore, i.e. cooking, raking, cleaning. These activities can inspire play. "Children like to help for short periods and then engage in their own play." (Alliance for Childhood's Play Fact Sheet)
  • Schedule time for play.
One final thought for those of us with children in childcare. A recent CNN.com article, citing research on outdoor play, encourages parents to check with childcare providers to see what they do to encourage outside time. Parents can be an advocate for indoor and outdoor play in preschools, day care centers and after school care centers.

I didn't intend to, but allowing my daughter the freedom to play last night was a good move. I'm glad I didn't intervene.

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