Every child expert I read believes that healthy play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of young people. The only problem with this is that in todays world time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children. There are many reasons for this including a) a hurried lifestyle b) changes in family structure c)increased attention to academics and enrichment and d) many other constraints on our time.
Benefits of Play
The American Academy of Pediatrics and their Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health have reported many benefits brought about by play and I am going to just summarize a few:
a. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.
b. Play allows children at a very early age to engage and interact in the world around them. It allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles.
c. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn interpersonal skills.
d. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, and discover their own areas of interest.
e. In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies. Encouraging unstructured play may be an exceptional way to increase physical activity levels in children, which is one important strategy in the resolution of the obesity epidemic.
f. And last but not least, play is a simple joy that is a wonderful part of growing up.
Each Child is Unique
The Committees went on to acknowledge that there is no “one size fits all” for how much play is right for your child. Some children excel with a highly driven schedule. Because we need skilled young people to be well prepared to be tomorrow’s leaders, we must recognize the advantages to the increased exposures and enriched academics some of our children are receiving. In fact, many of our children, particularly those in poverty, should receive more enrichment activities. But even children who are benefiting from this enrichment still need some free unscheduled time for creative growth, self-reflection, and decompression and could profit from the unique developmental benefits of child-driven play.
Healthy Play is important
For all children we need to promote the implementation of strategies known to promote healthy youth development and resiliency. Some of those strategies are community based, and others are school based, but many reside within the family. They are rooted in the connection that develops when parents engage with their children. Play remains an ideal way for parents to engage fully, and we at the Family Christian Counseling Center need to reinforce the value of this play. Some play must remain entirely child driven, with parents either not present or as passive observers, because play builds some of the individual assets children need to develop and remain resilient. If you would like to read more about the Centers use of play in their treatment of children please click on the link.