Typically my kids come in when it gets dark out. I remember growing up, when the street lights come on, that was the time to go in. The other day, it had been dark for about an hour and my kids were still outside. I went outside to call them in for dinner and witnessed something that was almost too good to interupt. There were 7 to 8 kids laughing and playing a not so serious game of basketball. At that moment, I remembered how much I used to enjoy nights like that growing up. I waited for a break in the play and said, “come inside in about 15 minutes”. They chimed back “ok”.
There is no question that kids of today “play less” than kids in the past. Keep in mind we are talking about “unstructured play”. While sports or games might be considered play, we are speaking about phisycal, non-electronic, and spontaneous play.
What is the reason for the change.? Here are a few explanations for a reduction in play:
There is less space to play – Where I grew up, the homes backed up to large forest. I would imagine a lot of that area has now been developed with homes. There is just less space.
Replacing play with electronics – Gaming, phones, or televisions. Having access to all of these provides entertainment, versus playing. Kids are not going outside if they are playing video games.
Environment is more dangerous – Many parents don’t want their kids roaming around or going far from the house. When we grew up it wasn’t uncommon for us to ride our bikes miles and miles away. The perception is that it was much safer back then.
Much less time to play – Whether kids are involved in other activities or schools/parents are focused on academic preparation, there is much less time to play.
So why is play so important? Here are some benefits that people have associated over the years with research:
- Promotes problem solving skills
- Learn to get along with others/social skills
- Improves Memory
- Conflict resolution
- Stronger self-regulation
- Better at math
- Allows them to work through emotions
- Improves physical development
- Builds imagination
So what can we do as parents to encourage play?
1. We need to make sure we provide them the time to play. Stop putting your kids in so many activities. Piano lessons, language tutoring, multiple sports, etc are just too much for kids.
2. We need to make sure offer them a safe place for them to play. If your neighborhood isn’t safe, bring them to a park or even indoor play area.
3. The play should be fun and self-directed
4. When young, we may possibly need to find them others to play with – schedule playdates
5. Encourage games and play that is fun and active: hide and seek, dance, sports activities, building stuff, riding bikes, etc.
The summary here is that play is a really good thing for kids. Encourage them to play and provide them an environment that allows them to play