Childhood reminds many of their enjoyable playtime with friends. Hopscotch, cricket and hide and seek have been a part of many of our lives. It was a pleasure hanging around with our besties sharing jokes, exchanging views and giggling once a while. Today’s kid might be an ardent fan of smartphones and play station, but every kid is tempted to get out and play once he/she sees a group of peers/friends having fun together playing some game. No childhood is complete without time to play and laugh. Electronic devices might be good for time pass but, they can never fulfill our desires for interaction, joy and togetherness that is attainable only through human interaction.
Play is so important that the UN’s Human Rights Commission has recognized it as a basic right of every child. Kids living in poverty, suffering from child labor or residing in war-prone zones have the least chance of fulfilling this right. It’s the same even in the case of kids who are exposed to various opportunities and situations that encourage playing outside owing to pressured lifestyles and increasingly competitive behavior between children towards education. Parents are super-brilliant to provide their kids with the best of everything to achieve success in life but what they lack is the knowledge or the acceptance that playing is essential for cognitive, emotional, physical and social well-being of children and adolescents.
If we look around, we are surrounded by hundreds of parents who raise children and it seems as though parenting is not a big deal. Of course, we become parents and we train our kids but what kind of parenting we do and what we teach our children determines their success or failure in life greatly. Each small thing that we do for our children has a greater meaning later and this includes play too. Seeming to be purely for fun play actually prepares the child for tackling the big society outside. Play looks like it has no purpose, but studies prove that play boosts brain function, improves coordination, enhances health and promotes cooperation.
Unstructured play increases physical activity levels in children and increases their probability of burning extra calories, being stronger and understanding how people and the world function. Some kids love free play as it empowers them with more control and allows them to be what they dream of. That’s because in free play the kid chooses the game, makes the rules, accepts negotiations and frees himself/herself from stress. Free play transports the child into his/her fantasy world. For example, if the kid wants to be a teacher, he/she can imagine a virtual classroom where parents can be the students and teach lessons or arrange games. Unstructured play is integral for curbing the rising childhood obesity epidemic and free play lets children make decisions. Only when given an opportunity you learn to take decisions and free play is essential for that. Many experts are worried that lesser number of children are engaged in free play activities as televisions and smartphones have made kids sit indoors for hours together raising the risk of weight gain. Smartphones have created a turmoil in our kids’ lives exposing them to various dangers which are discussed in detail at www.firsteatright.com.
Observing or joining your child in child-driven play gives you ample opportunity to watch the world from your child’s point of view as he/she sails through the things and roles perfectly imagined fitting his or her needs. Parents who interact with their kids during this session builds their confidence and takes the parent-child relationship a step ahead. Kids who don’t communicate much convey more about their frustrations, requirements and even experiences through play which provides parents with a golden opportunity to understand things from their perspective. Play is a great way of engaging 100% with kids. Parent’s are the best playmates sometimes as kids who interact with parents acquire a better vocabulary but allow them to take charge of the conversation because if you take over, it might shut down your child’s thoughts sometimes.
Exclusion in School
Educational pressure and cutting-throat competition have compelled many educational institutions to eliminate school recess. A short break helps the child focus better on academics. Likewise, play is also integral for improved academic results. There have been various studies supporting inclusion of play in schools as it improves a child’s learning abilities, cognitive skills and problem-solving talent. We are not doing justice to kids by curbing some factors such as play to enhance performance of some other factors such as academics. Socio-economic learning alongside academic education is the best approach. Unscheduled play time and free play along with other children are crucial for socio-economic learning.
A study funded by NIH shows a link between preschooler’s math skills and their capability to reproduce 2- or 3-dimensional building block constructions. Playing with building blocks especially with parents improves a child’s spatial skills and equips them for studying math, science and technology in the future.
Play has advantages even in hospital settings. Distracting a preschooler with colorful balls or bubbles before an invasive procedure is helpful. Administering injections to dolls before injecting the kid makes the child more comfortable. Even in-house patients must be exposed to some kind of recreational therapy to get them moving as this enhances their functioning skills. It also avoids patients from becoming depressed as they focus on something interesting that involves them and their mind is not focused on their health condition at that junction.
Play plays an important part in every child’s life and childhood looks incomplete without it. It offers developmental advantages for children and parental tips for parents helping them to engage with their kids as well. There are various factors that might impair a smooth playtime for many kids nowadays. But we must create the right kind of environment at home and school, encourage children to play out and make them understand the benefits of playing in their language to promote more play alongside academics.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.