Studies show that play is vital for the health of children.
Dr David Whitebread from the University of Cambridge has recently reported on the importance of play in a child’s development. Dr Whitebread said, ‘Play in all its rich variety is one of the highest achievements of the human species’, and here at Little Mummies, we couldn’t agree more. This is just the latest in hundreds of studies which conﬁrm the same thing. Plus, the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights has recognised play as a right of every child. So, why are our children still being limited in their ability to play? Today, we give you our top take-aways from this study and discuss what you can be doing to ensure your child is getting the very best out of their play time.
Play, particular of the unstructured and imaginative kind, is the best tool available for shaping a child’s development. Studies, such as the University of Cambridge report, show that children who are given opportunities for free play have better projections for social development, physical health and academic achievements. This is because as a child’s brain is developing, it needs space for unstructured experimentation and exploration. Here are the top beneﬁts of play:
1. Play allows kids to explore the world around them. When children are involved in imaginative play, they mimic the things they see in the world around them. Whether it is a pretend visit to the doctor’s ofﬁce, a trip to the supermarket or a tea-party for dolls, free play allows kids to process the things they see in the world around them and explore their place within this reality.
2. Play helps kids learn social skills Free play often involves conversation, arguments and problem solving amongst kids. When left uninterrupted by adults, children learn important social skills. Sharing, communication, and decision-making are some of the skills organically learnt by kids who play.
3. Play teaches kids how to entertain themselves As parents, you know how valuable a little independence can be in a child. Instead of constantly moving from one form of entertainment to another and demanding adult help, kids who are independent can play contentedly by themselves. Playing without structure teaches kids how to do this. Being comfortable with your own company is an important skill for adult life too.
4. Play allows kids express their feelings As kids are allowed to freely play in whatever way they like, they naturally process the things around them and the feelings they are harbouring. If they are feeling angry – that will come out in the way they choose to play. If they are feeling confused, sad or tired – that too will effect how their playtime looks. This is an organic way of children processing and expressing their feelings and is great for mental and emotional health.
5. Play makes kids take risks and build resilience When kids are left to their own devices to play, they will make mistakes. These could be physical mistakes, such as misjudging the distance of a jump or falling from a balancing beam. They could be social mistakes, such as snatching a toy away or not communicating what they want to play clearly. These mistakes are vital for a child’s capacity for resilience. They teach them the consequences of actions in a gentle, experiential way. Because of this, kids who play make wiser, more conﬁdent and more successful adults.
6. Play strengthens kid’s bodies and minds Free play allows healthy amounts of physical activity in a child’s day. It allows them to grow better, as their muscles and bones are used each and every day. Play also grows a child’s mind. As they experiment with the world around them they begin to learn about physics, mathematical patterns and communication, through osmosis.
When did kids stop playing?
As the generations have gone on, the time allowed for children to freely play has dramatically reduced. Studies in the U.S have shown that kindergarten level students are receiving up to 50% less playtime at school than they were thirty years ago. This pattern is similar in Australia. There are two main reasons why Australian kids aren’t being given enough playtime:
Dr Whitebread attributes the business of modern life to the decrease in free play for children. As we race from one appointment to the next, our children do too and they suffer the consequences.
Increased emphasis on structured activities
While swimming lessons, sporting groups, dance troupes, math clubs and holiday camps are great – they cannot replace free play. With the large amounts of extracurricular activities which families participate in, there is no space given for imaginative play.
Easy ways to encourage more play
Dr Whitebread made several suggestions in his paper for increasingly the amount of free play in childhood. Here are some of our favourites:
• Change up your toys. Encourage imagination by using interesting household objects as toys. Old cardboard boxes, toilet rolls, old credit cards and dress-ups are a great way to start.
• Don’t worry about the mess. Good free play can be messy. You can always wash things but you can’t replace the value of real play.
• Try not to interrupt. Unless your child is in real danger or is hurting someone else, just let them experiment and explore.
• Limit screen time. We know you’ve all heard this one but too much screen time can take over from free-play.
• Offer to join in the fun! This is different to interrupting with instructions. Offer to dress up like a princess, be the bad guy or be waited upon at a pretend restaurant. Participating in free play can be a real encouragement to your child.
Little Mummies understands the vital importance of play. That’s why we designed our beautiful, realistic dolls. They encourage little ones to explore social interactions, family relationships, communication and human nature.