Why Play Is Detrimental To Raising Healthy Children
If your goal is to raise healthy and well-rounded kids, then play should be a huge focus in your daily lives. Why is play so important and how can you play with your children to help foster independence, imagination, and many other important life skills?
As a parent of 3 children, I see friends raising their children with a lot of electronics and screen time. I’m not saying screen time is bad, in fact, I think it’s an amazing chance for children to learn a lot of important skills too, but it should be done in moderation. With the pandemic happening for the last year and a half, I myself have fallen rather guilty of allowing too much screen time and giving myself too much screen time too. It’s ok though because it’s all about survival.
Remember to give yourself grace.
But, while it’s ok to allow screen time, it’s also very important to squeeze in playtime that does not involve screens into the daily lives of your children. Activities such as arts and crafts, walking in the parks, building railroads, and lego airplanes are all super important when it comes to teaching our children problem-solving skills, communication skills, mathematical skills, and more.
Play shouldn’t be too difficult for parents. It’s not about setting up complicated sensory bins and spending every second helping your child play. It’s about giving your child the tools, such as a toy, and the space to learn how to use that toy.
Think back to when your child was a small baby, around 6-12 months of age. You would give your baby a toy, show them how to use it, and give your baby some space to figure it out. Your baby might play with the toy, or go somewhere else to explore their environment. That’s ok. You were there to give them the idea of the activity and they chose to do something else.
Toddlers are no different, and neither are older children. Play does not have to be complicated. Let the children use their imaginations and create their own play.
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Why Is Play So Important?
The importance of play in childhood promotes children to explore and develop cognitive & physical skills that will become useful later in life.
As parents, we want our children to not only succeed in life but thrive at their fullest potential as well.
As hard as we try to give them the tools they need for a successful upbringing, sometimes the most important thing we can give them is the time to play and use their imagination.
Playing alone can teach children:
- Learn to read, write and spell
- Learn mathematical skills
- Learn to solve problems
- Develop independence
- Become musical, sporty and artistic
While screen time is ok in moderation (especially these educational shows you can watch on Netflix), It is also essential to let them be bored, pick up a toy, and make their imagination soar.
When children lose playtime, they tend to develop learning difficulties and even can have a more difficult time completing homework.
Children should be developing their skills naturally, at their own pace, and not through many scheduled activities, this is why I love to have an unscheduled summer schedule that includes a lot of free play in the backyard.
Overscheduled children are very busy and often stressed out, which in turn does not help them learn and can foster anxiety and even anger. The cognitive and physical skills that children develop through free play are invaluable.
What Children Learn Through Play
Learning through playf has always been one of the most powerful ways to educate young minds.
Here are some of the things that children learn while they play:
Children Learn Self Control – Children learn how to self-regulate their emotions, which is an essential skill to develop at an early age. Children can work through their feelings and learn to negotiate with others as well as learn the power of delayed gratification through simple, imaginative play. You can do some of these fun social-emotional learning activities with your children to help them learn to manage emotions.
Children Learn Healthy Habits – Children learn healthy habits through play, especially when they pretend to cook in a kitchen and wash their hands in a pretend sink. Pretend play promotes healthy habits because it allows children to engage in the world around them actively, especially if you can incorporate doing some basic chores and make them into games. This can help prevent childhood obesity as well as depression and loneliness.
Children Learn How To Relieve Stress – Do your children seem stressed out? If they show signs of stress and anxiety such as biting nails, getting angry all the time, and being defiant, they could very well be stressed out. Teach your child some self-regulation skills and breathing exercises to help manage their anger and anxiety if you notice that they could be suffering from stress. Another thing you can do to combat a stressed-out child is to allow them to play in nature, and with toys that promote imagination. Overscheduled children often respond well to relaxing with non directed, free play. Not only does play boost a childrens health and development, but it also helps to provide stable and nurturing relationships that help add a buffer between stress. The joy that happens when a child engages in play melts away the stress because the child is relaxed and happy, which helps to get those endorphins flowing. Play can reduce stress in all children of all ages, if you notice your teen is feeling stressed, go kick a ball around outside, throw a frisbee or play a game of basketball. Play doesn’t have to be for small children, it’s great for teens and even adults too.
Children Learn How To Have New Ideas – Play gives children new ideas about the world around them and promotes the use of imagination. New ideas and innovation is the way of the world. We need people and their ideas so we can advance in technology and introduce new ways to make life easier and more convenient. I mean, look at all the cool technology we have today, children who used their imaginations and learned to dream big grew up into adults who worked hard and made their dreams come true.
Children Learn How To Make Decisions – When children play, they make decisions, and sometimes they learn the natural consequences of their choices. Sometimes they make a decision that works out well for them, and this teaches lessons that decisions are important and should be thought through well if they don’t want to face consequences later on.
Children Learn About Mindfulness – When children are engaged in play, they lose awareness of the space around them, and they focus solely on the task in front of them. When children “zone out” when engaged in an activity, they are safe and secure and are often not afraid to try new ideas and experiment.
Children Learn More About Risk-Taking – As children play and interact with new materials around them, they explore and developmental flexibility and executive function. When it comes to risk-taking play, STEM activities are some of the best toys that you can offer to your child. We love to play with lego, magnet net tiles and circuit boards in our home.
These are all critical skills that children need which is why play is such a huge part of child development.
Physical Development Is A Result Of Play
Play helps strengthen gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills should be developed before fine motor skills, and children who do not have good gross motor skills are less likely to participate in sports during their childhood and adolescence. Gross motor skills include:
- Standing, running
Fine motor skills are more precise and take more time to master. When fine motor skills are mastered, children can hold pencils and write letters. Fine motor skills are often just beginning to develop when a baby starts to crawl and pick up smaller foods to eat. Fine motor skills include:
- Drawing pictures
- lego building
- getting dressed
- brushing teeth
- building towers
Cognitive Development Can Also Be A Result Of Play
Playtime stimulated the brain for proper growth and improve (growth mindset)d memory. During leisure time, children concentrate, solve problems, and sharpen their overall thinking skills.
Pretend play or fantasy play teaches children to regulate their emotions and develop their reasoning skills.
Children also develop language skills and exploration skills, which are important later in life, especially math and science classes at school.
Types of Play That Are Important In Child Development
Pretend play is all about playing dress-up and make-believe games to encourage imagination and get the creativity flowing. During pretend play, children develop communication and language skills and can often express what their wants and needs are in the moment of play. For example:
- “You be the patient, and I’ll be the doctor.”
- “You be the mailman, I’ll wait for the mail.”
Physical play can be practiced at the playground during recess. Children learn to take risks by exploring climbing structures in a safe environment.
There are certain games that children play in larger groups such as duck-duck-goose and tag, which can promote healthy social-emotional skills as children learn not to harm others while they play.
All children should be experiencing outdoor play on a daily basis. When children play outside, they use their senses to learn balance and spatial awareness.
Playing outside can also help with expanding your childrens attention span, which is why recess is a very important aspect of school.
When children play with toys, they develop abstract thought concepts such as symbolism by using their imaginations and using objects for different purposes than what they are intended for.
5 Stages Of Play That Play A Huge Role In Child Development
As children grow, the way that they play also grows. There are five stages of play, and they start at birth.
Stage 1: Unoccupied Play
This is the play that starts right at birth! Those little movements that happen to infants that do not seem to have a clear purpose that is called unoccupied play! Cool hey.
Stage 2: Solitary Play
This is the stage of play when toddlers start to play on their own. You can see their imaginations growing as they play by themselves with cars or dolls and make pretend situations. When children play during the solitary play stage, they often do not notice what is going on around them, and it can be challenging to get their attention when they are engaged in play.
Stage 3: Onlooker Play
As the name suggests, onlooker play is what happens when children watch other children play. This usually happens around the toddler and preschool age. The child could be interested in what the other child is playing but will not engage in the play themselves.
Stage 4: Parallel Play
Parallel play happens when children play together but do not interact with each other during the playing. They typically play side by side or parallel to each other.
Stage 5: Associative Play
Around the preschool age, children become more interested in playing with other children over toys. Children will start asking each other questions and start playing with toys together. This is the stage where children learn about sharing and how to get along with others.
Age-Specific Ideas for Playful Learning
When children play, they naturally learn. Learning is so much more than just test scores and academic achievements.
Here are some age-specific ideas for learning through play.
Birth to 6 Months
Yes, it’s true, babies CAN play starting at birth.
You can respond to your baby’s smile with a smile of your own and imitate your babies’ sounds to promote conversation.
You can show your baby bright and colorful objects and let her put those objects in her mouth to explore and experience new things.
7 to 12 Months
This is the stage where the baby is more mobile and can crawl and explore your home. Provide ample opportunities for your baby to explore different parts of the house.
Your baby may want to drop things from the high chair to see what happens, use a mirror and make different facial expressions, and reach for a toy that looks exciting.
You can engage in play at this stage by playing peek-a-boo and singing songs.
1 to 3 Years
When children reach the age of one, you can start looking for daycare for your child, even if it is part-time. Look for a daycare center that encourages playful learning and unstructured playtime. Provide your child with Tupperware from your kitchen, wooden blocks, and lots of puzzles at this age.
Children can also tandem play at this age and stage of life, so be sure to host some playdates if you can. Take lots of opportunities to walk, jump, run, and hop on one leg to keep up with the gross motor skill learning. Read a lot of books to and with your child and explore the stories further by using pretend play and imagination. Children at this age also love songs and nursery rhymes, which you can find on Netflix, youtube, or simply sing yourself.
4 to 6 Years
By age four, your child should be more independent and can play on their own, but you can help encourage play by providing opportunities for your child to sing, dance, and tell stories. This is a great age range to get your little one to help with chores around the house, but make it fun, so it doesn’t seem like an annoying thing.
Healthy levels of screen time are ok at this age, but social interactions are, of course, preferred.
Parenting Tips for Encouraging Rich Play
Unscheduled Time To Discover
You can encourage your child to experience rich play by providing open-ended play materials that can be used in many different ways. Blocks, shovels, water, sand, snow, rocks, and other materials that can be played in multiple ways are excellent for encouraging rich play. Some toys have a clear purpose such as a doll, which can be held, and the child pretends to be the parent while other toys promote imagination, such as a magic wand can become a pointer to show which way to go.
Playing Together With Adult
If you can provide an hour of playtime per day to your child, then you’re doing the right thing. Spending quality time with your child and allowing them to pick the activity helps the child make decisions and take the lead. Sometimes children want to have a tea party; there is no reason you can’t join in!
Toys And Games That Promote Imagination
Brain Blox Wooden Building Blocks for Kids
Great way to build up brainpower! These building blocks can help your child with math, physics, and engineering concepts. This is a great STEM toy and makes a great gift too.
Science & Crafts For Children By Green Kids Crafts
With Green Kids Crafts, you’ll receive a themed box of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) kits every month for kids ages 3-10. It’s a great way for kids to learn about how to make the world more environmentally friendly.
Puzzles For Kids
Puzzles are great for developing problem-solving skills. The fine motor skills needed to place the pieces together also grow stronger when puzzles are completed.
You can grab puzzles at the dollar tree or Amazon
Wooden blocks are great for building all sorts of different things. when children are building, they are solving problems and using their imagination on this open-ended activity.
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- How To Play With Toddlers
- 41 Genius Activities For Teens When Everyone Is Stuck Inside
- The Best Summer Bucket List for Kids: 56 Awesome Ideas
- Fun Indoor Activities For Kids 1-8
- Why Play Is Detrimental To Raising Healthy And Well Rounded Kids
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