Now that I've got your attention . . . !
What's happened to play? While learning has become the buzzword of our times, play has fallen by the wayside. It's not that kids don't want to play. There just never seems to be enough time. With the pressure to prepare for a competitive and uncertain world, many of our kids are swamped with homework, test preparation, tightly scheduled after-school classes, and other "worthwhile" activities. Their heavy backpacks tell the story.
But did you know that play is gaining new respect as essential for development and, yes, learning? Active hands-on play is considered absolutely necessary for healthy brain development. An article in the January 2007 issue of Pediatrics reminds doctors that play is a powerful antidote to stress. Pediatricians are encouraged to promote the "tried, trusted and traditional methods of play and family togetherness" to enhance children's health and well-being.
I don't want you to feel that play is now just one more burdensome "must-do" to add to your child's already over-full schedule--or to yours. My hope is that you'll discover how play can contribute to a more balanced life for you and your kids. If you're like me, it's sometimes helpful to get "permission" to do something because it's good for you--like eating chocolate. So here are four reasons to give kids "permission" to play.
Play helps kids learn to make good decisions. Play provides kids with practice making decisions in situations where the results won't have major consequences. Kids get to analyze, strategize, and discover what happens through trial and error--in a board game rather than in the board room.
Play helps kids learn to get along. In our team-oriented society, kids need to know how to work and play well with others. Play teaches kids how to function within a group of their peers. The interactions that occur in spontaneous, kid-driven play are different from what happens in organized sports. Each provides a different type of learning, and both are important.
Play helps kids learn to use their imaginations. There is no substitute for make-believe and pretend play in helping kids discover how to develop their creativity. Kids are hard-wired to be imaginative, and without an outlet in play, their spirits may be trampled.
Play helps all of us cope with stress All work and no play makes Jack not only a dull boy but potentially a very anxious and sad boy. Everyone needs to have fun, move around, and let off steam. And each of us needs to discover his or her way of regrouping, renewing, and replenishing
We parents can be role models for the benefits of play--and playfulness. As someone who has too often felt like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland ("I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date . . ."), I've found it helpful to stop myself mid-meltdown and turn the situation into a game. When I took my son to an "important interview" to get into preschool (!!), we were stuck in traffic. As my mounting anxiety began to affect us both, I took a deep breath and started singing silly songs. We reached the interview in good spirits, and learned a valuable lesson along the way.