Parenting Class 6: The Importance of Play

Think about this situation. Your child is playing happily. Someone asks you what they are doing? Your response? “Oh, they’re just playing.” Just playing. Almost like we are implying that what our child is doing is somehow unimportant and not a big deal. We are learning though, playtime is so important in the development of children. What they are doing may seem silly or simple to us, but it could be teaching your child valuable life lessons. This month, we are going to examine the importance of playtime.

Let’s be honest. Our lives are busy. People are on the go all the time and everyone is in a hurry. We all have something to do. Little kids, just want to play and have fun. This is often overlooked in our rush to get things done.

First, let’s define what is playtime? There are two basic types: Unstructured, free play and Structured play. Free play is playtime that just happens, depending on what takes your child’s interest at the time. It isn’t planned and it is often coordinated by the child. It let’s your child use their imagination and move at their own pace. An adult may or may not be a part of it. Structured play is organized. It occurs at a fixed time and in a set place. This is usually led by an adult or some sort of instructor. Examples of this are dance classes, story time at the library or even swim lessons. Sometimes we push, even our little ones, to be involved in many structured activities like dance or sports. Organized activities are not bad. Many have very valuable benefits, as does free playtime. There must be a balance between the two and each child’s needs must be taken into account. The American Psychological Association reports that children today have eight fewer hours of free, unstructured play a week than they did twenty years ago due to busy lifestyles, electronics and organized activities.

Studies have shown that play is necessary for many kinds of development: Social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. Play is important for healthy brain development, problem solving and boosting language.

These days, there is more pressure on kids than ever before. The Kindergarten and Preschool of today looks totally different than it did twenty years ago. Many parents hold a fear of their child falling behind. All you have to do is look to the toy store shelves to see the enormous number of educational games and toys, some of which are very expensive. Education is so important but there must b3e a balance. Think back for a moment to when you were a kid. What was your favorite toy? I adored by baby dolls and I can remember my brother could make anything out of a simple stick. Be honest, was there anything better than a fort made of blankets or a really huge box? Despite the growing market of expensive toys, children actually need very little to maximize their playtime. Items that may seem simple or that aren’t even actually toys can be just as much fun and increase the use of a child’s imagination.

Playtime can also give parents an opportunity to fully engage with their child and see the world through their eyes. Kids don’t have to necessarily be taught how to play, but parents and teachers are important in helping kids advance through play. So, what are some ways to boost learning through play? Help increase your child’s verbal skills by asking questions about what they are doing. Say things like “Tell me about what you are building.” Challenge their imagination by asking for details as they pretend. If your son is pretending to be a pirate, ask them what kind of treasure they would look for and what their pirate ship is like. It’s also a great time to help them feel independent. Provide materials for them, but allow them to control their actions. This helps them to feel like a big kid.

There is a quote by the author Roald Dahl that says “A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.” That is a great reminder that we need to let our kids be silly and play and just have fun. It may seem simple to us, but it is so meaningful to our children. Be watching later this month for our next parenting email. We will explore the different types of development that playtime stimulates in our kids and great play ideas for them.