“Play is a child’s work,” is a quote that’s attributed to a long line of famous educators, from Maria Montessori to Fred Rogers. It’s not that playtime is actual work, of course, but the meaning behind that phrase is that play is meaningful and has an important purpose in a child’s development.
Many experts are saying that kids are not getting enough of the right kind of play. Overscheduled with sports, homework and family activities, kids are coming up far short of the recommended 120 minutes of playtime. (Of that time, at least 60 minutes should be spent outside.)
Bottom line, unstructured play gives kids a chance to become masters of their environment. And when you think about it, mastery is the ultimate destination of childhood.
3 types of play that every parent should know
Psychologists and researchers have identified many types of play. While the following is not an exhaustive list, these are three to focus on, along with their benefits.
Building play: This is where kids use physical objects and art supplies to create a representation of the ideas in their minds. This covers pillow forts, free-form LEGO Brick castles, lumpy clay animals and sketches of their families. The benefits of this form of play are numerous: determination, problem solving, reasoning and control. Not to mention, if they master what they set out to do — satisfaction.
Active physical play: The next time they’re racing around like hooligans, just remember, this sometimes loud and rambunctious behavior is actually building brain power. We think of running, chasing, hiding, climbing, leaping and jumping as activities that burn off extra energy. What we peace-loving adults don’t always appreciate is the fact that these kinds of active activities also stimulate the brain. Don’t forget, roughhousing and wrestling are also beneficial. One author says even this kind of rough play is a brain-builder that helps kids learn to recognize cues and develop empathy.
Pretend play: Whether they’re taking roles in a staged production or making their toys talk to each other, kids get a chance to explore and give expression to a range of emotions (from sadness to anger to joy) and consider different points of view.
Tips for adding more playtime
As a parent, it’s important to make sure the day includes at least a couple of hours for free and active playtime. The good news is, it doesn’t have to happen all in one chunk. Even if it’s 10 minutes here and a half hour there, it all adds up. These are just a few tips and ideas to help you develop that playtime mindset.
Work some playtime into transitions: Before and after school, let playtime be a part of the routine. Send them outside to play five to 10 minutes ahead of the bus’s arrival. Before the homework session kicks off, give them a chance to unwind with some free-play. Use this mindset even when it comes to running errands or attending scheduled events. Make time for a quick stop at the park, so they can climb, swing, kick around the soccer ball or shoot some hoops. Or, take a quick walk around the lake or on the walking paths.
Emulate your parents (or grandparents): Many times, it’s OK to tell them to go play, preferably outside, and let them solve the problem of finding something to do by themselves, whether they like it or not. If they’re not old enough to play unsupervised, be outside with them, but do your own activity, such as yard work, light reading or yoga stretches.
Opt for longer play dates: Busy schedules sometimes make scheduled play dates very necessary. If you have an open weekend, try a more open-ended approach and invite a cousin or a school friend over for the entire afternoon. It gives kids lots of time and practice at figuring things out, from finding something to do to working out the conflicts that are bound to arise.
When it comes to kids, spare time is a balancing act between structure and freedom to play. At Bricks 4 Kidz, we value the importance of play, which is why we make sure to include a block of free time at the end of the session, so kids get a chance to explore and create with LEGO Bricks. Find an upcoming Bricks 4 Kidz class in your community today.