Pediatricians, therapists, and preschool teachers alike know play is an integral part of a child’s early years. It’s one of the main ways children learn and develop, and it also contributes a great deal to the mental health and happiness of your little guys. That said, there’s still quite a lot of conflicting information out there about the true value of play.
Is play that powerful and important for your kids? Should their early years be about playful discovery? And one that definitely crossed my mind as a parent, so I can imagine it’s crossed yours as well- Are they really learning while they’re playing?
So to help answer some of these questions, let’s dive into three reasons why as parents you need to make sure to protect your children’s play time. Let them play, and what’s more, create free time for unstructured, child directed play.
- Play and learning are not mutually exclusive. Research shows us that play is more than just kids keeping busy or having fun – It is a source of development for them.
When your kiddos are playing all kinds of skills are developing– language skills, gross and fine motor skills, cognitive skills, creativity, self-control, body awareness, decision-making skills, emotional regulation, social skills and play helps them develop the ability to concentrate too. Your little ones develop these myriad of skills through hands-on exploration, movement, pretend play, building, and outdoor fun. The more they play the more brain growth and development occurs.
- It’s not just for their childhood that play is important. There are some significant long term gains too. Longitudinal studies have shown that social skills in kindergarten are predictive of positive outcomes in early adulthood more so than academics in kindergarten. In the study, kindergarteners who had more developed social skills (sharing, taking turns, teamwork, communication, compassion and problem-solving) were more likely to go to college, get a job, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and have problems with the law at age 25. Imagine how this perspective could help influence your kiddo’s emergence into their school years!
- Over the past several decades there has been a decrease in the amount of time American children spend in free time and in self-directed play. At the same time we’ve also seen an increase in mental health disorders among kids. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, and researchers believe there’s a direct correlation between the decrease in play and increase in psychopathologies. Time spent on technology and organized activities have taken over children’s free play time. When children play they become absorbed in what they’re doing. They develop a sense of their abilities and strengths, and they feel good about themselves. Play builds a child’s confidence and self worth and helps create space for better mental health.
Providing your toddler or preschooler with ample opportunities for play provides so much more than “fun”. Play allows children to relax, let off steam, and is a powerful teaching and learning tool. Your children want to play. Watching them I bet you’ll begin to notice that they are naturally driven to play. So now you know, they really are learning and playing. How will you give your little ones the time and space for the unstructured play experiences they want and need?
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Your child’s potential is limitless. Their success begins with you.
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