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I live near an elementary school, and before the reign of COVID-19, I enjoyed the happy hum of children’s play emanating from the playground. Now, as I walk around my neighborhood, I rarely see or hear even one child outside at play.
While social distancing may curtail the social aspects of large games, children still need daily outlets away from the computer. A great deal of education occurs during self-directed play.
Educational and healthcare professionals have long been concerned that children might not be receiving enough play time to support learning and emotional wellbeing.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics 2012 clinical report, “Play is essential. Unstructured time is vital for development, stress reduction, physical and mental health. Play gives children a wide range of critical cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits. Play, in all its forms, needs to be considered as the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children, including for children in poverty. The lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”
Now, when children are isolated from their friends, solitary play takes on an even more important role. Frequent open-ended activities, sprinkled throughout the day, provide the breaks that young minds need to refresh between their academic lessons.
Outdoor activities give eyes a rest, release tension, provide exercise and provide opportunity to play in the dirt, jump rope, skip, look for pretty rocks and chalk up the sidewalk. Physical play improves sensory integration skills in motor, cognitive, social, and linguistic domains. At least one hour a day outside is considered a healthy minimum for everybody.
Free form play indoors allows children to express their creativity and explore their passions.
Children’s brains are already programed for learning through play, from making up their own games, playing pretend with their toys, creating with clay, dressing-up, dancing, and splashing in the tub.
Free form play often creates an imaginative private reality and contains elements of make believe.
Children naturally engage passionately. Becoming engrossed in play builds executive functioning skills and contributes to readiness for more formal ways of learning.
Experts are becoming more and more convinced that children need less time at the computer and more time to play. While school is closed screen time lessons are necessary. Taking frequent breaks will improve attention. Bored children are hard to teach.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has enshrined the right to engage in play that is appropriate to the age of the child.
According to their report, “Play is not just about having fun but about taking risks, experimenting, and testing boundaries. Play is not frivolous; it is brain building. Play is fundamentally important for learning 21st century skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and creativity, which require the executive functioning skills that are critical for adult success.”
Couldn’t we all use a little more play in our lives right now?
Rorie Measure is president emeritus of Children's Reading Alliance, a grassroots initiative to encourage family literacy throughout Doña Ana County. She is a reader, writer, teacher, reading specialist and literacy trainer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.