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The Power of Playtime

Spring is upon us once again! It’s officially the time for the air to get warmer, the grass to get greener and the flowers to bloom. There was a time when children played from morning until night. They ran, rode bikes, played ball, and created endless stories out of their active imaginations. Now, many rarely play this way at all. So what has happened?

Today, children spend over four and half hours per day watching TV, video games, and computer screens. Parents need to remember that although “educational” video games have been developed for babies up to young adults, they do not stimulate the same neural pathways in the brain as active play activities. Play activities should include stimulation of all five senses (sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste).

Academic pressure is beginning at younger and younger ages. Many kids find themselves spending much of their time after school at the kitchen table doing homework, leaving very little time to play before bedtime. Overscheduled lives full of organized activities and loss of school recess also contribute to this growing trend.

The consequences for a generation of children suffering from lack of activity and poorly developed motor skills is leading to an overwhelming number of unhealthy and overweight children. The staggering consequences of overweight and obese children are shorter lifespans and heart disease risk factors evident in preschoolers—yes, preschoolers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three American children born in the year 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes, formerly called “adult onset” diabetes because it was so rarely seen in children.

Clearly, these trends cannot continue. The future must involve returning play and physical activity to childhood. The first step toward change must be a new shift in priorities, on the home front and within communities. We must realize that the mind and body are interdependent and that children need to play and move in order to function optimally, both physically and intellectually. This will ensure that, whether at home or at school, children get a healthy, daily dose of play and physical activity, preferably outside.

Decades of research clearly demonstrate that play, active and full of imagination, is more than just fun and games. It boosts healthy development across a broad spectrum of critical areas: intellectual, social, emotional, and physical. The benefits are so impressive that every day of childhood should be a day for play.

The Benefits of Play: Child-initiated play lays a foundation for learning and academic success. Through play, children learn to interact with others, develop language skills, recognize and solve problems, and discover their human potential.

Physical Development: The rough and tumble of active play facilitates children’s sensorimotor development. It is a natural preventive for the current epidemic of childhood obesity. Research suggests that recess also boosts school children’s academic performance.

Academics: There is a close link between play and healthy cognitive growth. It lays the foundation for later academic success in reading and writing. It provides hands-on experiences with real-life materials that help children develop abstract scientific and mathematical concepts. Play is critical for the development of imagination and creative problem-solving skills.

Social & Emotional Learning: Research suggests that social make believe play is related to increases in cooperation, empathy, and impulse control, reduced aggression, and better overall emotional and social health.


What you can do to help your child play?

Reduce or eliminate TV: Give your children a chance to flex their own imaginative muscles. They may be bored at first. Be prepared with suggestions for make-believe play to inspire their inner creativity.

Choose simple toys: A good toy is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child. The child’s imagination is the engine of healthy play. Simple toys and natural materials like wood, boxes, balls, dolls, sand, and clay invite children to create their own scene and then knock them down and start over.

Encourage outdoor adventures: Reserve time every day for outdoor play where children run, climb and find secret hiding places. Natural materials like sticks, mud, water, rocks are the raw materials of play.

Good play routines can last a lifetime. Always remember your child is never “just moving” or “just playing”. Every action improves upon your child’s development in some way!