Seeing children play outside has become infrequent in today’s culture. Yet researchers continue to learn more about the benefits of play on childhood development. Meanwhile, educators and policymakers scramble to address concerns of growing rates of childhood obesity and mental disorders. Although play may not solve every concern, its enormous potential to powerfully influence growth and change in children must be considered.
Benefits of Play:
At all ages, the experience of play is a critical component of development for children. Researchers have long observed play in other animals in addition to humans thinking play was only useful for training young animals to hunt or fight. However, researchers have recently discovered that instead, play builds pro-social brains, allowing for interaction and growth in various animals and humans alike. Some critical benefits of play to consider are:
Improved Physical Health: Active play allows children to move around, engaging in sensorimotor development and exercise.
Brain Stimulation: Outdoor play increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and glucose for improved alertness.
Social Development: Learning through unstructured play, without formal rules and regulations, allows for exploration, creativity and experimentation. Children also learn to resolve conflicts and relate with others at a higher capacity; a lasting skill and a strong indicator of future academic performance.
Even with unstructured play, researchers have some parameters to include, like physical activity, social interaction and exploration. Additional caution is advised for other forms of entertainment involving video games and TV. These activities can promote sedentary lifestyles among children, simultaneously creating isolation in their recreational time from others as well. With a little creativity, you can design other activities for children that are often more rewarding and stimulating!
Across the nation, children spend considerable time in school. School systems aim to improve standardized testing performance, often cutting into play time. With long hours in school, extra-curriculars and homework in evenings, the opportunity to play has significantly declined. At the same time, sharp increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide have also been reported.
A Different Approach:
Facing difficulties and hardships is part of the process of growing up. When children learn to handle challenges, they show signs of maturation and development. With more research and initiatives to allow children to play, there are abundant resources to help parents. At the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School, we incorporate play into education, from early childhood into adolescent years. Outside of the classroom, we also have recommendations for media consumption and electronic device usage for children, set in place to further assist their development. We hope our students will acquire a passion for life-long learning, a characteristic that will bring success in more areas than academics.