The importance of play for children

Smith

By Samantha Smith
School is out, summer is upon us, and that means our children are free to play. Regardless of the activities they choose, just because our children are playing does not mean they are not still learning. A lot of important learning can occur during the summer months – learning done through play.
Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children, play is serious learning.” Research has shown that what Mr. Rogers knew instinctively about play is true: play is an important part of a child’s physical, emotional, mental, and social development.
Data from a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that when children are allowed the time to play, they experience many benefits, such as learning emotional regulation, enhancing their balance and dexterity, practicing conflict resolution, and gaining self-confidence. The fact that they get to have fun while they develop necessary life skills is an added bonus.
The summer can be a good time to slow down and re-evaluate your family’s schedule to create some time for free play and family activities that foster creativity and connection in your home. While there is no right or wrong way to play with your children, there are specific things you can do to encourage playfulness in your home so that your children can experience the benefits of play. Here are some suggestions for encouraging free play with children of various ages:
• Give your children “true” toys, such as blocks or dolls, which are non-specific and invite imagination and creativity.
• Encourage your children to engage in active play (sports, playing tag, dancing) in lieu of solely passive entertainment (video games, television, tablets).
• Give your children ample, unscheduled time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress, and avoid overscheduling them with extracurriculars.
• Allow your kids to get “bored” before you step in to offer an idea for what they could do.
• Encourage your kids to spend time outside.
Whatever you and your children choose to do this summer, be it playing outside, creating saint peg dolls, or making a fort in the living room, I hope that you will be able to set aside some time to be creative and play together. If you can, it will benefit your children’s development, strengthen your relationships … and you just might find yourself having fun too!
Samantha Smith is a licensed master social worker at Cana Counseling. She formerly worked as a school-based therapist in the diocese and is now a full time therapist at Cana Counseling. She incorporates play in her approach to therapy and enjoys working with children of all ages, from kindergarten to high school. For more ideas about how to help your child develop their play skills, or if you have more specific questions, you can contact her at (316) 263-6941.