For young children, play is more than just a way to entertain themselves or pass the time. Through play, they learn to engage with the world around them in increasingly complex ways. Play is essential to development because it contributes to children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being.
Unstructured play time should be a significant part of every child's day! Tweet this!
When children play, they discover their environment, acquire new skills, and develop a sense of mastery. When they play with other children, they learn to share, negotiate, and resolve conflicts.
Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to spend quality time with their children. Specific forms of play will change as children grow, but joint play between parents and children encourages a strong parent-child bond at any developmental stage. It can also give parents new insights into how their children learn and what interests them.
While the benefits of unstructured play activities might not be immediate obvious, play is an essential form of learning and is crucial for healthy development.
Many children’s lives include too little play.
Despite the benefits of play, many children’s lives include few opportunities for active, child-driven activities. Numerous causes for this trend have been identified, including changes in family structure, increasingly hectic lifestyles, and the growing influence of passive forms of entertainment (TV, computers, video games, etc.)
Even at the preschool and kindergarten level, schools are emphasizing academics at the expense of child-centered free play. Even after-school programs have shifted away from play and physical activity and toward academic and enrichment activities.
Today’s families are less likely to have extended family members living with them, and are less likely to be familiar with their neighbors. As a result, parents have less help supervising their children, which often limits time for playing outside.
Poor children are especially likely to have too few play opportunities.
Poor and low-income children often face even more barriers to free play. If their families live in unsafe neighborhoods, they are unlikely to have ample opportunities for outdoor activities. Additionally, economic hardship can cause parental stress that drains parents’ emotional resources and hinders their availability for joint play with their children.
Because play is so crucial for social and emotional development, these differences contribute further to the achievement gap between poor children and their middle-class peers.
Play should be a priority for families, schools and communities.
Play is an important but endangered source of competence, confidence and resilience for young children. On the positive side, parents can improve the amount and quality of their children’s play, regardless of specific family circumstances.
Throughout April, we’ll be examining how parents and communities can ensure that children’s daily lives include a healthy amount of unstructured, creative play.