Why Play Matters

In Parenting by Jen

Why Play Matters

I was asked to participate in a Blog Hop hosted by my good friend Janine of Encourage Play. All month long bloggers across many different genres have been invited to talk about play, what it means to them and how they encourage play with their own children.

Playtime is something I feel very strongly about as a parent. I know that in general it is highly encouraged to have children participate in structured activities like sports, gymnastics, dance and such. I also believe that today there is a prevailing mindset to over schedule our children so that they stay busy, and I believe that this is hurting them. Because being busy is far different from being allowed the beautiful freedom of unstructured playtime.

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that supports just how important play is. It affects a child’s health, well being, academics and the list of problems associated with the lack of play time is also something we really shouldn’t ignore.

In addition, children today have so much more technology available to them, more than any other previous generation. This means that the constructs for the word play are being reinvented and that we are facing a very new reality for both modern childhood and parenting. I know that I am not the only parent who has to remind children to turn off these devices and to just go play with something that doesn’t beep or require them to press buttons!

Yesterday I sat and watched an episode of Mr. Rogers with a few of my children. Interestingly, even though this show is now decades old they were still hooked like I was as a child. Because the concept of imagination and play is so seamlessly interwoven throughout the show in a way they could understand and enjoy. I was excited when after completing the episode they decided to go and create a make believe neighborhood “Just like Mr Rogers”. That neighborhood is now spread across the upstairs of my home and as I sit here typing I am listening to their happy play upstairs.

I think as parents it is important to not forget that play time should be simple, in fact that is the best kind.

Play can involve a quick dance around the house to your child’s favorite music or a nature walk where you go looking for dinosaurs and play as you go. Or an afternoon spent on a blanket looking up at the clouds and making up stories out of the shapes you see. The point of  this type of play is that it allows the mind of your child to grow and stretch, all the while also helping them to learn important skills.

I know that some of my most special parenting moments have been those completely unplanned and spontaneous moments of play where my children and I let our imaginations lead the activity.

Play can also be structured play dates with friends. There is something quite endearing about watching  preschoolers create and open a “princess restaurant’ or seeing Hot Wheels cars and Barbies march into battle on the backs of My Little Ponies to defeat the bad guys!

I try and stand back and watch these play dates unfold with other children, mostly letting the children determine the play. Do make sure though you follow some VERY important play group and play date guidelines. Or it can turn disastrous. Trust me. You can read all about it here.

Also do not underestimate the power of play with siblings. Although my children fight, I know that they also truly love to play with one another. I encourage them to play together, because today as an adult my siblings are my best friends.

The important thing to remember is that play time doesn’t always have to be directed by you. In fact it shouldn’t be. It is also perfectly fine for a child to create their own stories and games, because I know that doing this has allowed my children a chance to work through some of the things they are concerned about.

I hope that as parents we take the time to encourage and foster an environment where play can happen. Sometimes this might mean saying no to some activities and instead opting for an afternoon at home letting your child turn an old cardboard box into a pirate ship.

I know that I have found parenting more fulfilling and less challenging when I try to fill our life with less activities and “things” to keep us busy. I think you just might find the same to be true.

Never Stop Playing!

Stay Happy! Stay Informed!