Who said that playing is a waste of time for kids? It’s fun, educational, promotes healthy all-round development and strengthens bonds. Kids World’s resident writer CHERYL SIM discovers the many forms and virtues of play – and how the quality and value of playtime can be further enhanced.
I bet all of you are familiar with the saying, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The message is simple and straightforward: Play is important for any child – and that includes all children, whether healthy or disabled.
It is well documented that play is a natural rite of passage that helps fine-tune a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive needs. In fact, play is considered so important towards child development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has declared play as a basic right of childhood.
How would you feel if you were deprived of your own free time? You would feel frustrated, trapped and stressed out. Likewise, children need their own time and space to relax, reflect and rejuvenate. Giving them the freedom to do so includes letting them choose what they want to do and how to do it.
So how do you increase the value of play in your child’s life? It’s easy! Just expose them to a variety of play activities and suitable toys, rope in a couple of playmates – and don’t forget to get involved as a parent!
Children are perhaps the best experts when it comes to play. After all, playing is a natural instinct of a child, and even when left alone (but not unsupervised of course), a child is bound to conceive ways to entertain himself. And this is what child therapists actually recommend – to let kids use their own initiative and imagination, at their own pace.
“Freeform play encourages the creative and multi-sensory development of a child because it has no structure,” says a report entitled The Trouble with 21st Century Kids.
“Regimented play activities can have negative consequences on the social and emotional development of a child because they are too organised and take away a child’s initiative and freedom of choice.”
There are so many different kinds of play that children can engage in, but having fun should be the ultimate goal. Through play, children have an innate way of discovering themselves, as well as the world around them. So, what kinds of play do children normally engage in?
Whether it is with adults, siblings, cousins or other children, children learn to play and interact harmoniously with those around them.
Children encounter and respond to challenges which are a natural part of their environment. Physical play can also involve rough and tumble activities like catching, climbing, tickling and so on.
Here, children develop self-confidence and communication skills by expressing themselves through creative storytelling or playacting.
Whether your offspring is the only child or has other siblings, it also important for parents to expose your child to other children during playtime. There is a six-year age difference between my son and daughter, and before Jolie came along, my elder son Josh was already mixing with other kids around the neighbourhood as he came to learn that the world does not revolve around him, but in fact, is home to others just like him!
Here are the numerous benefits when your child is encouraged to play with other kids:
Regarding play, some well-meaning parents believe that the more expensive the toys are, the better. However, such hi-tech and “smart” toys are losing favour with child development experts, who favour traditional options as building blocks, plasticine, drawing and colouring materials and balls, which promote creativity, interaction, dexterity, expression of self and problem-solving.
“Nowadays, toys we select for children have the hidden agenda of making them learn, but those toys do the opposite.
They usually look for a single, correct answer to a problem because they are busy teaching skills,” points out child professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and author of the book Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.
“Today’s kids don’t need to be fed information through toys. They need to combine facts in innovative ways to become creative problem solvers.”
Not all play should be confined indoors either. Climbing the monkey bars at the playground or building sandcastles on the beach also expose children to different environments and help them understand that play is part of the world that they live in.
Even though free and easy playtime is best for a child, this doesn’t mean that adults or parents can’t get involved. Let your child take control while you play a supportive role. This will allow you to see things from your child’s perspective and also helps to strengthen bonds, as paying attention to your child shows love and respect for what he/she is doing.
“Play can also be an anti-stress agent for parents,” notes Francine Ferland, a professor in the Occupational Therapy Programme at the University of Montreal. “When they play, they can forget their troubles and be creative and original with their children.”
So kick back, relax and start making playtime with your child a positive experience:
While adults should take a backseat during playtime, this doesn’t mean that supervision is unnecessary. A parent’s unobtrusive presence can help their children feel safe, and “some structuring of play can be helpful now and then to get children going or help children who have difficulty playing,” says Peter Smith, professor of psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London says. “But this should not go too far.”
Now that you know the vital secrets that can enhance the value of play, you can empower your child as well as yourself by making the most out of this activity that is part and parcel of all our lives, at home and beyond.
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