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Work hard to make time to play

September 07, 2011

For many adults, playing is perceived to be more of a luxury than a necessity in life. Who has the time? But for children, playtime is a crucial aspect of their healthy development.

As parents, we seek to prepare our children for a successful future, and it’s easy to get pre-occupied with organized activities aimed at developing their academic or athletic abilities. It is also increasingly common for children to spend the majority of their free time enjoying television or online entertainment. While these things can be beneficial parts of healthy development, we must also balance them with active play to foster a child’s well-being.

Social and emotional development

My toddler is just beginning to explore baby dolls. When she discovered that she could pretend to be Mommy by changing her baby’s diaper and feeding the baby with a bottle, she beamed with pride. And she giggles with excitement as she wanders the house, tools in hand, to “fix” things just like Daddy does.

When children are allowed to direct their own play, they use imagination and role play to explore our adult world. Play can provide an avenue for children to communicate their understanding of their environment, and it is a necessary tool for

developing emotional and social intelligence. As they learn to share with other children, decide who gets to play teacher or negotiate how long they spend building Lego masterpieces before they move on to hide-and-seek, they practice the art of building and maintaining relationships. These activities also give them the opportunity to discover their own unique interests and abilities while they exercise decision-making skills, too.

Intellectual growth

Child-directed play complements intellectual growth as well. Through play, children can learn leadership skills, problem solving and group dynamics. Their language skills improve as they talk with one another. Games can teach them how to interpret and follow directions while practicing vital skills such as mathematics and memorization. As they play, they learn to use their mind to successfully navigate through their world.

Physical health

And, in a society where obesity is an epidemic, the benefit of physical activity can’t be understated. Passive entertainment such as televisions and computers are a powerful draw for children. Active play, however, contributes to the building of healthy bodies. Play can also provide a physical outlet that children often need in school to help improve focus and attention span.

The ultimate goal in parenting is to produce healthy, well-rounded, resilient children who are well-equipped to enter the adult world. One of the most important things we as parents can do to prepare them is to encourage and protect their opportunities for play. As an added benefit, our children receive the gift of wonderful memories and simple joys that are often only experienced in childhood.