Childhood obesity, bullying, mental-illness, behavior problems, social anxiety, school violence, technology addiction: one underlying factor that has been all but tossed to the wayside can help alleviate these ailing, juvenile predicaments–play.
Not the handheld-device kind of play, not the sedentary sport of sitting in front of the television with a headset on and a controller in your palm, the good old-fashioned, physical kind that requires a child’s imagination and body stamina to perform.
While not a cure-all for every affliction plaguing our nation’s youth, play is a sensible and therapeutic place to start when searching for a practical solution to the problems stated above. Play is beneficial for many aspects of human interaction. It stimulates cognitive growth, problem solving, language development, interpersonal connections and it’s just plain fun.
As children, our hidden creative talents emerge and thrive through play and the self-expression it enables. Through play children are able to practice basic societal skills like negotiation and compromise. These two precursors to healthy human interaction are essential for adolescents and adults to function well in both private and public life.
A child who can play the role of mother or father during pretend play not only practices empathy for others, they also begin to develop successful parenting tools. The child who gets to reenact a stressful situation that left them feeling vulnerable, is able to vent their frustration and regain some semblance of control over their lives by re-writing the ending or working through the difficult details in a non-threatening way.
The importance of play has been the cornerstone of child-development specialists and early childhood educators since the 19th century. The first kindergarten was started in Germany in 1837 by Friedrich Froebel.
A strong advocate for play he said, “A child who plays thoroughly and perseveringly, until physical fatigue forbids, will be a determined adult, capable of self-sacrifice both for his own welfare and that of others.”
Although there is overlap, there are many different types of play, each one enhancing a certain skill set crucial for well-rounded development. The various types of play include:
- Gross/Fine Motor
- Games With Rules
Gross and Fine motor play utilize the large and small muscles in the body. A visit to the playground, riding a bike, and jumping rope are examples of gross motor play, whereas cutting with scissors, painting, and manipulating small items like interlocking toys, make use of fine motor skills.
Dramatic play is a social experience where children use their imaginations to create or re-create various scenarios. Through the use of language and creative thinking, they practice different roles, whether it be a doctor or a server, and the societal norms that pertain to that situation.
Constructive play calls on children to use materials like building blocks and sand to construct things. In order to develop a well thought out plan and proper organization of the materials, it necessitates a longer attention span to complete.
Games with Rules requires children to follow a specific set of rules in order for the game to be played effectively. More refined social and cognitive behaviors like self-control and concentration aid children in their ability to participate in these games with success.
Dr. Gary Landreth’s quote sums up my point perfectly, “A child’s play is his ‘work’, and the ‘toys’ are his words.”
If we removed the electronic distractions, if we adjusted our educational curriculum to allow play in all classrooms and gave children the time to do their ‘work’, we would be fostering a generation of critical thinkers, who could tackle problems with purposeful intentions, that would lead to viable results for generations to come.
Further sources for reading: