as published in West Annapolis Neighbors magazine, February 2023 edition
We could all learn a thing or two from watching small children play.
For example, that necklace Kate’s making? It’s for her mommy’s birthday. As she chooses various beads to thread on a string, Kate explains, “Mommy’s going to get dressed up and go out to dinner with Daddy, so she needs a pretty necklace.” When is Mom’s birthday? Kate looks across the table to her friend, Jenna. “My birthday is tomorrow!” Jenna exclaims. The girls giggle as they tell you Jenna is the mommy and Kate is the little girl. Creativity naturally bubbles up. The story gives purpose to their play.
As kids get older, it seems play gets more structured. Play dates are set up, extracurriculars are scheduled, and screen time is built into the day. None of this is bad, but it does leave less time for play directed solely by the kids themselves. And the more children practice playing, the stronger they become at the skills play promotes.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Fred Rogers knew that, in fact, play lays the foundation for future learning. Therefore, it is imperative we help kids not only remember how to play as they get older (not on a screen) but continue to make time for it.
Five Benefits of Play
Play promotes creativity and problem solving. Remember Kate’s necklace? Great idea! How is she going to build it?
From threading beads for a necklace to crossing the monkey bars, play builds fine and gross motor coordination.
What looks like a scribble to us is filled with depth and details that come to life as a child explains his masterpiece. Play enhances communication skills.
Play provides opportunities for understanding different emotions and practicing empathy. Children learn to share over blocks and recognize other points of view as they navigate differing ideas for how to build the same thing.
When they’re not adult-directed, children must direct themselves, naturally allowing kids to test and develop their leadership capability.
So the next time you’re considering your child’s schedule, remember to leave time for play.