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Importance of playtime for kids

Importance of playtime for kids
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By: Mohammad Hanief

Playtime is beneficial for your child, but you don’t have to spend hours playing horsey to encourage their growth. It can be difficult to find the energy to play with your little ones after a long day at work. More than just a chance to have fun, play is serious business when it comes to a child’s health and development. From peek-a-boo to pat-a-cake and hide-and-seek to hopscotch, the many forms of play enrich a child’s brain, body and life in important ways.

According to a latest American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clinical report, “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children”, explains how and why playing with both parents and peers is key to building thriving brains, bodies and social bonds―all important in today’s world. Research shows play can improve children’s abilities to plan, organize, get along with others and regulate emotions. In addition, play helps with language, math and social skills, and even helps children cope with stress.

Despite its many benefits, statistics show that the amount of time children get to play has been declining for decades. Tightly structured family and school schedules, fewer safe places to play and rising media use and screen time are among the reasons.

To help keep play a key part of childhood, pediatricians may begin writing a “prescription for play” at every well-child visit through age 2. Pediatricians also advise parents to look for quality child care or preschool programs that include playful approaches to learning.

Learning is best fueled by tapping into a child’s natural urge to play, rather than just outside factors like test scores. As they actively engage with and joyfully discover their world, children gain 21st century skills that increasingly call for teamwork and innovation.

When playing with an object such as a toy, babies become little scientists. They use their sensory-motor skills to explore its properties and conduct “experiments.” To learn if an object is solid, for example, they might bang it on the floor. Preschool-age children also use objects to develop abstract thought and concepts like symbolism, using a banana as a telephone, for example, along with sharing and taking turns.

Physical fun such as free play during recess helps develop children’s motor skills, prevent childhood obesity and build emotional intelligence. The gentle thrill of a playground slide, for example, lets a child build confidence as they take risks in a relatively safe environment. Games such as duck-duck-goose and tag also help children build other socio-emotional skills such as empathy as children learn to be careful not to hurt others by tapping someone too hard, for example. You can also provide opportunities for organized sports to learn teamwork.

Outdoor play is particularly important because it lets children use all their senses to build skills like spatial awareness and balance. It can also improve a child’s attention span. Studies suggest that young children in countries where schools allow more time for recess see more academic success as children get older. Yet, an estimated 30% of U.S. kindergarten children no longer have recess. Advocate for safe playgrounds in your community; exposure to nature helps children appreciate the importance of climate resilience.

This type of play lets young children experiment with different social roles and learn to cooperate. Dress up, make believe, and imaginary play also encourage creativity and builds more complex negotiation, communication and language skills.

Young babies can learn a lot just by passing a rattle from one hand to another – watching it, feeling it, and hearing it. This simple play activity helps the nervous system coordinate hearing, hand and arm muscles, and eye impulses; there’s a lot of learning occurring with the simple shake of a rattle!

Toddlers’ play helps develop coordination, muscle strength, and balance through climbing, running, falling, and getting back up again. They learn to manage the emotional surprise of the fall, manage minor pain, and develop resilience

School age kids left to create their own fun are incredibly creative. Make-pretend play like playing “school” or “store” and snow fort building, art projects or tag-type games allow kids to make the rules and assign jobs which require negotiation skills and thinking on their feet. All of the above involve more physical activity than sitting in front of the TV.

Older children benefit from being involved in team sports or other organized group activities like band or drama. By being part of a team, teens learn that practice requires hard work and dedication, that loss requires one to get up and try again, and that persistence pays off with improved performance.

As a team member, teens gain a sense of belonging critical to self-esteem. The community of team sports and the team mentality is transferable to the workplace and family life in the future.

For children to really benefit from play, it is important for you as a parent to give your child time to play in a safe space. While children must be supervised, do so from a distance. Allowing children to use their imagination will be most beneficial for their development. Try letting the play take a natural course and see where it flows, redirecting only if needed.

There is a difference between creative play and screen time. In today’s world, children spend a lot of time in front of screens, whether it be television or smartphones, video games or social media. While some of this technology can certainly have its benefits for learning and development, too much screen time can have a downside.

Research has shown that excessive screen time is associated with pediatric obesity, poor sleep, and behavioral problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for children older than five, and one hour of high quality programming for children ages two to five. Children 18 to 24 months should have only parent-supervised quality programming, so the toddlers understand what they are viewing, and no digital media for babies less than 18 months.

Sometimes children may have too many scheduled activities. Between school, homework, lessons, and sports, children may not get enough free playtime. Being overscheduled can create an unhealthy amount of stress when there is little time to decompress and just let their minds relax and flow. This can lead to anxiety and even depression in children.

It’s important to find that balance between scheduled activities like school, sports, and lessons, and unstructured playtime away from screens. Remember, every child has different needs, but all of them need unstructured playtime.

(The author can be mailed at [email protected])

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