Play enhances the quality of our children’s lives - promoting mental and physical well-being.
Congratulations! We’ve almost made it to the end of week one of school in this new academic year. For some of us, it’s a completely new experience, while for others it’s just muscle memory. Regardless of the level of familiarity, our return to school takes some degree of adjustment. In all the excitement and the balancing act among work, school and family life, we can all become so flustered as we try to give priority to what we think matters most. And on that list of priorities, improving our child’s resumè is undoubtedly at the top for most of us. Thus, a whole week hasn’t even passed yet, but our kids’ schedules are already packed with extra lessons and extra-curricular activities, leaving virtually no time for unstructured, good old play. And why would we leave time for play anyway? Play, oftentimes, exists on the other end of the spectrum of work - a mere frivolous activity that should, at best, be reserved for recess and lunch time in schools. Play serves no real purpose other than to occupy children’s “free time” and most likely as children get older, they’ll grow out of the need to play.
But that perception of play could not be any further away from the truth. Actually, research has shown that play holds tremendous value both for adults and children. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have even described play as being “one of the highest achievements of the human species, alongside language, culture and technology.” For it is actually through play, in all its many forms and glory, that we facilitate the acquisition of language, the understanding of culture and the development of technology. Furthermore, numerous scientific studies have linked play to promoting cognitive, emotional, social and physical well-being in both adults and children.
The importance of play to the development of children is not a new topic. Educational psychologists and philosophers have studied the relevance of play and its benefits to our well-being from time immemorial. In the early 19th century, German philosopher and psychologist Karl Groos described play as being “an essential need” to childhood since it develops instincts and qualities in children for their future lives. Some of these include confidence, self-esteem, interpersonal skills, independence, curiosity and resilience. If we are, in fact, preparing kids for the real world, then we should provide as many opportunities for them to develop the skills that they will need to thrive as adults. Actually, we should be committed to doing such. And what easier way to do that than to just let kids be kids and allow them to play. There are no prerequisites for playing. It is one of the most natural and enjoyable ways for children to fulfill so many of their developmental needs.
In today’s fast-paced, digital world, we seem to have replaced traditional play with computer games and other forms of entertainment on numerous devices. Children barely spend time outdoors anymore. Of course, the pandemic forced us to resort to such means in some cases and has even created a certain level of distrust among people. But if we really think about it, kids, when left to be kids, get so creative during play that nothing becomes a barrier to enjoying time with one another. It is through very natural forms of play that children learn about themselves and make sense of the world around them. Not to mention, playing encourages children to move their bodies thereby promoting physical health.
Truly, this article can go on and on as we explore the many benefits of play supported by scientific and personal research. However, the main purpose here is to emphasise the importance of play to the holistic development of our children. This academic year, I challenge you to make time for play and let kids be kids. They will most definitely thank us in the future.