This blog is devoted to play.
Who doesn’t remember hours of outdoor play, coming home briefly for lunch then heading back outside until dinner time?
Unfortunately, it seems that this childhood freedom to play outside all day has all but vanished from our society. There are many reasons for this. Parents are concerned about their child’s safety due to road traffic, bullies or possible predators. There may be no suitable yard or nearby parks to play in. Parents are working long hours and have no one to watch their children play outside. Some children, even in early grade school, have homework to do after school.
These are all very real concerns but the lack of free play affects our children’s emotional development and can cause problems later in life. Therefore we recommend that parents work to put free play back into their children’s day.
Unstructured freely-chosen play is a testing ground for life. It provides critical life experiences that help young children develop into confident and competent adults. Free play is different than playing sports. Free play is play that a child undertakes by his or her self and which is self-directed and an end in itself rather than part of an organized activity. Recess is free play while physical education is organized.
Here are some ways that free play benefits kids:
- Play gives children a chance to find and develop a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests.
- It is through play that children first learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control and follow rules.
- Children learn how to handle their emotions, including anger and fear during play.
- Play helps children make friends and learn to get along with each other as equals.
- Play is a source of happiness.
The loss of play can be harmful in 2 ways. First it takes away the joys associated with free play then it replaces them with emotionally stressful activities.
Real play is not associated with screen time. In fact, there is ample evidence that these “passive” forms of entertainment such as watching TV and playing video games do not have the benefits of free play and can actually have harmful effects.
It is possible to have free play indoors but much more beneficial if outside. Play in an outdoor, natural environment allows children to explore both their world and their mind. Nature places virtually no bounds on the imagination and engages all of the senses. For all children, this setting allows for the full blossoming of creativity, curiosity and associated developmental advances.
In addition, the outdoors provides an excellent opportunity for parents to interact with their children in a way that fosters both the development of the relationship and the child. This can be accomplished by simply going on a walk and exploring the plants, bugs and rocks. Children also benefit from fresh air, sunshine that provides Vitamin D and exercise. This a win-win situation.
So, in conclusion, we all want what is best for our children. Free play is a wonderful way for families to interact, receive health benefits and improve a child’s development and emotional help.
Article written by Sue Gaston, M.D.
- Am Academy of Pediatrics, Ginsburg, K., and the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Clinical Report: The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics 2007;119:182
- The Atlantic, “All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed, Esther Entin, Oct 12, 2011