When I first took the kids out of school, I gave them loads of time to free play in the backyard. One of them could mix together clay and water, and make wet, gunky, globs of reddish mud-clay bricks, baked in the sun. She did it for hours.
Together, they would swing, ride the slide, have water fights, play hide and seek, for hours and hours and hours.
Most of them still do. When left to their own devices, they’ll head downstairs to play Barbies, or to the imaginary town they’ve created with post office, restaurant and daycare, incorporating new businesses as they learn of them in their neighbourhood. They’ll head outside to play Giant’s Treasure, skip or bicycle. They are professionals at play.
Funny that I’d always heard that free play was important. But I’d not imagined that my eleven year old would be engaging in it so heartily. She was as comfortable playing with a three year old as a thirteen year old. I’d been told that this kind of play fades out of long before eleven. Yet I’d heard that lots of free play was a good thing. I’d heard that kids that played outside for long periods would have healthier vision–my children of two parents with glasses still don’t wear them. And I could see it fueled imagination and energized and focussed them.
When I did a little research, I found Michele Borba’s possibly exhaustive list why play is so effective. She came up with the following eleven reasons scientifically proven to encourage play:
11 Scientific Benefits of Play
We’ve always known that “kids and play” are just a natural combo. But new research also shows that letting kids engage in self-directed play has immense value for their social, emotional, cognitive and physical growth. Here are just a few of the proven scientific benefits of letting our kids get messy and doing something besides clicking those darn keypads and video controllers and paper and pencil tasks:
1. Play boosts children’s creativity and imagination. Play gives children the chance to invent, build, expand, explore and develop a whole different part of the brain.
2. Play stretches our children’s attention span. Playing outdoors just 30 minutes a day increases child’s ability to focus and pay attention.
3. Play and rough-housing boost boys’ problem solving abilities. The more elementary school-boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving. (Don’t ya love that one!)
4. Play boosts self-confidence and self-regulation. Kids learn to become masters of their own destiny without an adult directing, pushing, managing or scheduling.
5. Play forges friendships, strengthens social competence and teaches social skills. Undirected play allows kids to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, communicate and develop core social skills they need not only now but for the rest of their lives.
6. Play helps kids learn to enjoy just being in their own company, entertain themselves and develop identity. Ease that guilt when your kid says, “I’m bored, Mom!”
7. Play reduces children’s anxiety and diminishes stress. A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry shows that play is also critical for our children’s emotional health because it helps kids work through anxiety and reduce stress.
8. Play creates joyful memories of childhood. Come on, no kid is going to remember the car pools and worksheets but the swings, jumping in leaves, playing leapfrog in the mud, blowing bubbles, building forts–those are the unforgettable childhood moments. Sigh!
9. Play boosts physical health and reduces risk of obesity. Henry Joseph Legere, MD, author of Raising Healthy Eaters points out: “Rises in screen time have led to the rise of a sedentary lifestyle for our children. In 1982, the childhood obesity prevalence in the United States was actually less than 4 percent. By 2004, that number had grown to about 30 percent.”
9. Play expands our kids minds and neurological development. Self-initiated play improve skills such as guessing, figuring, interpreting and is important to brain development and learning
10. Play builds new competencies, leadership skills, teaches lifelong hobbies, and develops resilience. “Play is what allows kids to manipulate their environment,” says a report written by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. of the AAP, “And how you manipulate your environment is about how you begin to take control, how you begin to develop your senses, how you view the world.”
11. Play nurtures the parent-child bond. Child-driven play also improves our parent-kid relationship.Play offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to see the world from our children’s eyes as well as strengthen our relationship when we join in.
We all knew it was doing something good! And to quote Michele in her ever-so-clever quip: Keep in mind folks, there’s no rewind button when it comes to childhood! Let them play!