Why it's important to let our kids play

Author: Steve   Date Posted:20 February 2016 

Play time is an important part of kids development, it helps build relationships, muscles, creativity, problem solving skills, emotional literacy and quite simply better brains!

The importance of play in developing our kids minds and bodies

These days, it’s not uncommon to feel like your child is destined for a lifetime of underachievement if she doesn’t know all of her ABCs before she enters preschool. There’s been a strong push toward academic excellence at younger and younger ages. Kindergarten’s the new first grade.

Unfortunately, this focus on building literacy and math skills usually comes at a price. When teachers or parents force little ones to sit down and practice writing, the kids aren’t getting as much play as they should. This is a shame, as young children really learn best through play. In fact, in an article for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Dr. Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley states that there is much hard evidence showing that children learn more through play than they do in an academic setting. (http://www.naeyc.org/files/tyc/file/TYC_V3N2_Gopnik.pdf)

Play time may seem like “just fun” to an adult’s eyes, but there are many different skills that a child is learning when he or she is actively engaged in play. Below are just some of the ways that children are learning when they’re playing with dolls, building with blocks, or just running around playing tag.

Building Relationships When children play together, they’re learning how to interact with other people. Even young children are able to build their negotiating skills and learn how to direct an activity. For instance, when a group of children decide that they’re going to “play kitchen,” they need to decide who’s going to be the chef, who will serve the food and who will eat it. Are they cooking for a restaurant or family? Do you notice them taking turns and using their manners? All of these things are important skills to learn in life. A child who doesn’t learn early on to take turns might be the adult who doesn’t let others speak during an office meeting.

Building Muscles Developing strong, healthy bodies should be just as important as the ability to read and write. Children need the type of free play that they get during recess, gym class, or just playing outside with friends. Such activities help them to improve gross motor coordination, which is necessary to do things like throw a ball or climb a play set. Active play can also allow children to “let off some steam,” enabling better focus once it is time to learn more academic material.

Building Creativity When children play, they use their imaginations and develop their creativity. This is especially true when they use wooden toys rather than plastic toys that resemble favorite characters. A wooden doll, for example, is more of a blank state. The child could turn that doll into a teacher, a garbage collector, an astronaut, or a carpenter. These skills are helpful in the future when it comes to imagining new products or solutions to current problems.

Building Problem-Solving Skills Children also learn to solve problems through play. This could be as simple as negotiating who’s going to take on which role in a game – they’re learning how to negotiate and solve the problem of not having enough resources to go around. You also see problem solving develop when something fails. When the block tower falls down, the child needs to experiment with the block placement to learn how to make the tower sturdier. Children who are continually forced to do teacher- or parent-led activities may not learn these essential skills. They’ll be constantly looking to others to solve their problems.

Building Emotional Literacy Any person should strive to have a good sense of their own emotional states and those of others. Through pretend play, children are able to experience a wide range of emotions, both real and pretend. They should be encouraged to recognize when a friend looks sad or angry and learn how to help that friend. Children are also able to practice appropriate expressions of emotion when they’re playing together.

Building Better Brains There’s a tendency in our society to equate learning with reading books and doing worksheets. Yet children certainly learn when they’re playing games together. Any game that uses dice, for example, helps children learn to count and add numbers. Wanting to read instructions or a note that a friend writes gives a child the motivation to learn to read. Without this play, children often view learning as a chore.

Whether you’re a parent, grandparent or teacher, it’s essential to build a sense of balance in your child’s life. Never dismiss the value of play because there are so many important lessons that your child is learning when he or she engages in all types of play. Your child has an entire lifetime of hard work in the future. Take this opportunity to make things a little more fun.

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