Playtime Resources for Parents

New parents have a lot to think about as they drive home from the hospital with their newborn: feeding schedules, nap time, bath time, changing the first diaper, making sure there are no sharp edges, plugging electrical outlets. With all of these things to worry about,  new parents may not realize how essential playtime is  for the healthy development of their baby. Out of exhaustion parents may scold their child if he or she is crying or “getting in to something.” However, play is how babies learn and come to understand the world around them, and is essential for early brain development.

Research has shown that play is important for the healthy growth and development of children.  It is through play that children interact with their environments, developing an understanding of the world around them. Bodrova and Leong (2003) suggest that play has a number of implications for the development of cognitive and social competencies such as,  improved memory, self-regulation, oral language skills  and interpersonal abilities as well as more successful school adjustment.

To help parents better understand how and what their baby is learning in their early years, Zero to Three has put together several free resources listed below:

  • The Power of Play – 12 page booklet explaining the importance and role that play has in all areas of development (social, cognitive, behavioral) in children from age zero to three.
  • Play Year – Ideas for play during each month of the year. Includes suggested reading and games.
  • Tips for Choosing Toys – Tips on how to choose toys that are developmentally appropriate.
  • Parents can also sign up for a weekly e-newsletter detailing their child’s development week by week from zero to three.

Locally, the Urban Child Institute hosts a training series for parents called Better Brains for Babies. During the seminar, parents learn about the science of brain development and how to play with their baby in a way that stimulates brain development. The training focuses on four simple concepts: touch, talk, read, play. These resources give parents ideas on how to effectively play with their baby while also helping them recognize what their child is learning during his earliest developmental years. (For more information on the summer training series, please call 901-385-4233.)

However, as children grow up, effective play at home may not always be easily accessible. Safety concerns prohibit some children from playing outside. Other families have limited resources to dedicate to the provision of enriching books and toys for children. False assumptions about play also threaten play’s effectiveness.  Oftentimes adults believe that when left alone children will simply play. However, children create a more comprehensive and complex understanding through play when they share knowledge with others (Bodrova et al., 2003).

 Recognizing the threats to effective play at school and at home a number of local organizations and attractions provide free or inexpensive opportunities for families to share in safe experiential learning and play beyond their neighborhoods:  

Memphis Park Services

The City of Memphis’ Division of Park Services oversees over 166 parks and 3,000 acres. Park Services is responsible for the maintenance of countless tennis courts, golf courses, community centers, and playgrounds. Families can use visits to the park and playground to share the importance of a healthy lifestyle through frequent outdoor or athletic activity. For a musical experience for the entire family, the Levitt Shell at Overton Park hosts free children’s concerts on Tuesday nights during the summer.

In addition to these public outdoor spaces, Park Services also runs five community museums and gardens: The Memphis Zoo, The Pink Palace Family of Museums, Lichterman Nature Center, The Memphis Brooks Museum, and the Memphis Botanic Garden. Many of these places host free admission periods or pay-what-you-can admission in order to provide opportunities for enjoyment for all Memphis families regardless of financial status. Families can use visits to these museums and gardens to structure a conversation around biology, art, or history.

Memphis/Shelby County Public Libraries

A trip to the library allows families to share in a love of reading and fosters pre-literacy skills in young children. Imaginative play and hands-on activities based on children’s literature are critical learning experiences for children that help them learn to synthesize and filter information and also develop creativity. The Memphis Public Library offers access to collections of children’s literature in addition to opportunities to engage in literature through craft projects and story time. Library access is free to all residents of the City of Memphis.

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens is a fine arts museum and public garden featuring its own private collection of art and horticulture. Additionally, the Dixon hosts a number of traveling exhibits throughout the year. The Dixon aims to provide a diverse audience with an intellectually-stimulating experience through the viewing and interpretation of art. To support this aim, the Dixon has pay-what-you-can admissions on Tuesdays and free admission on Saturday mornings. Families visiting the Dixon can encourage creativity and critical thinking through artistic interpretation.

Shelby Farms Park Conservancy

The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy is a non-profit organization that oversees the operations of the Shelby Farms Park and Greenline. Shelby Farms Park houses 4,500 acres and is one of the largest parks in an urban area in the United States. The park has opportunities for families to share in a number of outdoor activities including playing on the new Woodland Discovery Playground, riding bikes or walking on any of the wooded trails, or simply tossing a Frisbee in a grassy area. The Greenline is a seven-mile trail that runs from Shelby Farms Park into Midtown and is great for biking, walking dogs, or skating.

For more information on playtime opportunities in Memphis, visit the City of Memphis' "Just for Kids" website at: http://www.memphistn.gov/Residents/Entertainment/MoreEntertainment/JustForKids.aspx.