When I was a young girl the importance of play wasn’t an issue.
I would come home from school with no more than one page of homework for the week. We would spend our days running around in the open field next to our house without a care.
The weather would get cold and we would come indoors to play with our toys and build blanket forts with the sheets and blankets in our hallway cupboard.
These days our kids are bombarded with distractions. Piles of homework from school, television, video games, and phones.
What is the importance of play?
Play is a critical part of child development. Especially in the early years when our kids are little.
The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasize the importance of play to children’s development. Play time helps kids with their problem solving, decision making, physical, and social skills.
Parents and educators both play an important role in facilitating unstructured play time for kids.
Are kids getting enough unstructured play?
Unstructured play is the play time children get that isn’t led by a teacher or parent with a learning objective in mind.
Basically letting your children play naturally, making up their own games and playing the way they want to.
An in depth study conducted by Melissa and Doug shows that kids aren’t getting enough unstructured play.
What has caused the decrease in play time for kids?
There are many reasons for the decrease in opportunities for kids to get unstructured play.
- Education is becoming more of a priority with longer school days, shorter recesses, and additional homework
- Screen time is a big distraction in homes where kids have access to an increasing number of electronics
- Safety has become more of a concern for kids to play outside
- Parents have increasingly busier work schedules that don’t allow for much time to play with their children
- Extreme weather may make it difficult to engage kids in outdoor play
How does less play effect children?
A lack of unstructured play can effect children by:
- trouble working as a team
- decreased ability to learn and remember information
- less social skills
- increased stress, anxiety, and depression
Both the Melissa and Doug study and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that the decrease in childhood play could be a direct effect from our modern busy lifestyles. Screen time might not be entirely to blame.
Even still, it is scary to think that there are direct effects to our children if they don’t get enough opportunities to play.
So, What can parents do to increase kids play time?
As parents, we are at the forefront of helping make sure our kids do get enough free play time.
Quarantine tip- At home the most important thing you can do is play with your kids and make sure your encouraging siblings to play with one another.
Since our kids are not in school and it may be difficult to play with friends that at home play time with parents and siblings is that much more important. Try these toddler activities, preschool activities, and outdoor activities to get started on ideas.
Here are some things you can do to make sure your child is getting enough play:
- Advocate for more recesses at your public school
- Also advocate for less homework so your child has more time to play after school
- Engage with your kids when they tell you they are bored or ask to play
- Make it a family goal to play with the kids each day
- Provide your kids with toys that allow them to have imaginative, creative play
- Spend a set amount of time outdoors with your kids each day to watch them play
- Take your kids to a park or children’s museum where they can play freely
- Limit screen time to encourage indoor play
- Turn off the TV and put on fun music for your little ones to encourage them to play
- Don’t allow screen time for your toddler under 18 months (Here are some great non-screen ideas to keep your toddler entertained)
How can homeschooler’s make sure their kids are getting enough play time?
We recently started homeschooling, so I like to include tips for homeschooling moms too.
Here are some of the things we do:
- Organize play dates at home or the park
- Enroll your child in extra curricular activities that include unstructured play time with children
- While your children are young allow several breaks during the day for unstructured play
Here are some of our favorite toys to encourage unstructured play time:
Step2 Grand Walk-in Kitchen and Grill, Brown/Tan/MaroonStep2 Happy Home Cottage & Grill Kids Playhouse, BlueRegal Games Chalk City – 20 Piece Jumbo Washable Sidewalk ChalkDisney Princess Dress Up Trunk (Amazon Exclusive)Melissa & Doug Food Groups – Wooden Play Food (Pretend Play, 21 Hand-Painted Wooden Pieces and 4 Crates)Master Workbench by Hape | Award Winning Kid’s Wooden Tool Bench Toy Pretend Play Creative Building Set, Height Adjustable 32 Piece Workshop for ToddlersMega Bloks Build ‘N Learn Table Building Set (Amazon Exclusive)Kidzlane Medical Doctor Kit for Kids – Pretend & Play Doctor Set – Packed in a Sturdy Gift CasePrextex Realistic Looking 7Melissa & Doug Pasture Pals – 12 Collectible Horses With Wooden Barn-Shaped CrateHot Wheels Criss Cross Crash Track Set (Amazon Exclusive)Paw Patrol Marshall Fire Engine Ride-On Ride OnPlay Platoon Kids Activity Table Set – 3 in 1 Water Table, Craft Table and Building Brick Table with Storage – Includes 2 Chairs and 25 Jumbo Bricks – Primary ColorsStep2 Easel For Two with Bonus Magnetic Letters/NumbersMelissa & Doug Water Wow! Reusable Color with Water On the Go Activity Pad 3-Pack, Animals, Alphabet, Numbers
Do you worry about your kids getting enough quality play time? What is your favorite way to encourage play time at home? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!