Gone are the days of tag, chase, tackle the man with the ball, dodgeball, and the like. Also gone are the "dangerous toys" like the metal Tonka trucks that are indestructible, the monkey bars that tower up into the air, the tree house built way up in the tree with a homemade zip line going into the garage, and the metal slide that's 4 stories tall with no side-rails and several bumps on the way down. Okay so the last one may be a bit of an exaggeration but it's not far off.
Playing serves a great purpose. Remember when you used to call up your friends or head over to their house and greet them with "wanna play?" It didn't matter what you played, you'd make it up.
Today it seems that play is all but dead. Parenting has become more about the child's achievement and directing towards goals. Be it the child's - or far more likely the parent's goals.
Schools are doing away with recess in the belief that giving up play time will allow more time for study. Even preschoolers are not immune to this shift. Through the 80's and 90's a 4 billion dollar industry sprung up... tutoring. With 26% of it being devoted for 2 to 6 year olds. Babies... who should be spending more time in imaginative play than structured learning.
It turns out that play develops the child's cognitive skills.
By play, I mean true child directed play: free, unstructured play where the kids invent the activities that reflect their own curiosities and interests.
Too many children are parentified, or expected to become adults too fast.
Play is critical in a child's life. According to David Elkind, play is vital in teaching a child how to control himself and interact with others.
Play is true preparation for adulthood.
Play is where you learn how to handle the unexpected.
Another researcher Jaak Panksepp believes play turns on hundreds of genes in the brain. Specifically, play stimulates neurogenesis to hasten the development of the frontal cortex in the brain.
Panksepp's research also points to daily rough and tumble play is a way to decrease if not possibly cure ADHD in children.
Play is vital to the development of our children and the health of our families. Here's a few ideas on how to make play more part of your family life.
- Encourage your kids to play with other kids. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it doesn't seem to happen that often. Many parentified children would rather play with adults than other kids. While this may seem mature and grown-up, anytime a kid plays with an adult, imagination and leadership skills are stifled. Adults often will take charge or limit the imagination because we can't compete with a child's imagination level.
Get your kids playing with other kids. Turn off the video games and TV and let them make up the games. We used to do it. Let them.
- Play with your kids everyday for at least 30 minutes. Spend time as a family playing. One of my favorite times each day is the wrestling time I get with my daughter and son. My son, before he could even talk, would walk over to the floor and point meaning "it's time to wrestle dad!" Before long, my daughter and my wife would be in the mix. It's a great bonding time as well as a testing of my children's strength and abilities.
- Take your kids out of school for a day. I don't recommend you do this too often, but take your kids someplace instead of school at times. You could even incorporate some learning opportunities into this. Visit the zoo, the aquarium, local museums, or galleries. You could even go to the park. Give them an unexpected break from their normal structure and spend the time together.