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Play and Win-Win

By Mary C. Belknap, Ph.D., Educator, Consultant, and Grandparent  

Water, balls, blocks, crayons, paper, scissors, dolls, bikes, puzzles, sand, dress up clothes. What do these items all have in common?  Children spend hours playing with such toys and the underlying need for such experiences is VERY important to a child’s growth and development.  Research shows ACTIVE play improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.

Through play, children learn about the world and themselves. For example-the National Association for Young Children (NAEYC) notes play reduces stress, develops creativity, helps with strong and healthy development, and reduces the risk of obesity facing so many children today. Heart disease among children is not an accident.

Play in a child’s world creates growth. Brain development is encouraged by play. Riding a bike, building blocks, playing in and with water appear simple but are also complex. If we step beyond the simple, we see complex play experiences. Here are a few examples-

Playing restaurant- children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and make out checks. Social and emotional skills are also developed.

Block building-balance, height, directionality, space as they may create roads or houses. They may also explore distance as they create a road or bridge.

Is your child playing at home? Are you playing with them? Are you allowing your child to initiate play with you? If you are not sure…make a list with your child helping you. Ask them, what did we play today- with no prompting? Please note-"play" for you might not be "play" for  your child.  

Where are you with play and your children?

True story-Most recently two Physical Education Teachers were teaching a game to elementary students. The game involved bases and it was not baseball. The game was thoroughly explained but only 6 of 40 students even knew what a “base” was in a game. This took place in an affluent Catholic School in Michigan.  

Another True Story- A librarian observed a small family. The children were playing with the library toys, but the adult was on her cell phone the entire time. There was NO adult/child interaction while the children were playing. Absolutely NO interaction.

There are many, many resources related to play. Seek them. Please take the time to play with your children and offer time with creative play. The giggles and love shared are beyond measure.   

With technology, we are finding children don’t play, don’t have opportunities to play, and as the stories above noted, are not familiar with play options. Does your child know what a “base” is in a game?  

Finally, playing is significantly wonderful for positive emotional experiences. Develop and strengthen family relationships and play. A challenge for you, be active in your child's play as it builds trust between parent/child. Your child feels more comfortable approaching you, your child intrinsically feels happy as parents are happy playing. 

Overall, a child sees the person that is their ultimate role model not on their phone but engaging with them. It is not just a win for children and their parents, it's a win for the future of our society. How lucky are we that we get to play and help the overall climate of society. Play experiences are win-win.


Resources on play

Ten Things Every Parent Should Know About Block Play

A Little Play Goes a Long Way: The Importance of Playing with Your Child

Heart Failure in Children


Play YouTube

Youtube- the Importance of Play

Youtube- Speaking out about play.

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