Remember when you were little and you used to play outside for hours on end? Or maybe you’d be inside in a playroom pretending to be a teacher or an astronaut or a princess? Or you would be enjoying watching videos for babies with your parent? When children engage in play, they’re do much more than entertaining themselves. They’re learning and growing; they’re turning into well-adjusted human beings. During play, kids naturally learn concepts such as sharing, cooperation, negotiation, conflict resolution, camaraderie, and physical skills. Play helps children experience empathy and determine which course of action to take in any given situation.
From 1981-1997 there was a 25% reduction in free play for 6-8 year olds while homework more than doubled. When the brain is not allowed to rest between learning segments, brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, can become depleted. Because of this, it becomes frustrating and much more difficult for the child to make connections from one neuron to the next neuron.
Much of today’s child play is technologically based. While there are benefits to screen time (children are after all growing up in a technologically advanced world), there are also disadvantages to too much screen time play. Why does the brain need to imagine anything in a video or a game when it’s all drawn out for them in picture perfect HD?
The advantages of physical play are numerous. It gets your children up and moving, thereby increasing their physical activity and improving their health. It gets their imaginations involved and brains engaged. And if they’re playing outside, it’s giving them a healthy dose of Vitamin D which many children are lacking.
What Should You Do?
- Provide time for your children to play outdoors. Accompany them to a park or another outdoor location and allow them to interact with other children. Let them play with each other. When children play together, they learn how to handle social interactions and relationships and how to recognize their own and others’ emotions.
- Turn of the television and unplug the game consoles. Engage your children in Frisbee in the backyard or play a board game inside. Find ways to engage in play that don’t involve a screen of any kind.
- Provide your children with downtime, time when they’re not being hurried here or there or engaged in other activities. After all, some of the most creative thoughts occur when the brain has time to think.
- Have your children participate in 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity each day. The American Heart Association suggests that all children and adolescents actively participate in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
For more tips and ideas on how to encourage your children to get out and play, consult my bestselling book, Preparing Children for Success in School and Life: 20 Ways to Increase Your Child’s Brain Power.