The Importance of Play
How important is it for your child to play? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s very important. A recent report states that free and unstructured play is not only healthy, but essential for your child's social, emotional, and cognitive development. Play can also help them manage stress and foster healthy brain development.
Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, to discover areas of personal interest, and to practice decision-making and self-advocacy skills.
The AAP report addresses several forces that threaten or restrict free play and unscheduled time, including changes in family structure, the increasingly competitive college admissions process, and federal education policies that have led to reduced recess and physical education programs in many schools.
It also suggests that while play can protect and enhance a child's emotional development, a loss of free time (combined with a hurried lifestyle) can become a source of stress for children, which could contribute to anxiety and depression.
And, the report suggests, in schools with a more sedentary learning environment, the lack of physical activity may also contribute to some academic differences between boys and girls.
To help your child make the most of play and free time, the AAP recommends:
- Encourage the use of "true toys," such as blocks and dolls, in which children use their imagination fully, as opposed to passive toys, which require limited imagination.
- Support an appropriately challenging academic schedule for each child with a balance of extracurricular activities. This should be based on each child's unique needs, and not on competitive community standards or the need to meet college admissions standards.
- Realistically evaluate claims by marketers and advertisers about products or inventions designed to produce "super-children."
- Understand that each young person does not need to excel in multiple areas to be considered successful or prepared to compete in the real world.
- Consider choosing childcare and early education programs that meet children's social and emotional developmental needs as well as academic preparedness.
A good balance for children, according to the report, is one that allows them to reach their full potential without pushing them beyond their limits; and allowing them adequate personal free time.
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