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The Importance of Play: How to Encourage Your Kids to Have Fun

According to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, every child has a right to play. Why? It’s extremely important to the healthy development of every child.

Providing playtime for your children is up to you, the parent. Not only should you play with your children, but you should encourage your children’s siblings, babysitters, and friends to play with them as well. Playtime is more important today than it was decades ago.

“Why?” you might ask. Well, the answer is simple. Schools of today, unfortunately, are giving children less and less play time—to their detriment. Back in 1989, the National Association of Elementary School Principals conducted a survey which determined the number of schools that gave children at least one recess period. At that time, 96 percent of schools gave children one period for recess each day. When the same survey was conducted ten years later, the conclusion was that kindergarteners were given only one recess period daily in only 70 percent of schools.

Besides less time provided for children to play at school, they are also spending less time playing at home, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is because of the busy lifestyles of parents and families today. Children’s time spent playing is limited further by the perceived need for them to succeed academically. Let’s also not forget too much screen time over time outside or with imagination occupying kids.

Encourage Free Play

Don’t give your child rules or guidelines, and free play will soon follow. According to Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D., author of a report on play, free play occurs when your child pretends—pretends to be a superhero, builds a fort, finger paints, and so on. All of these will help develop independence, creativity, imagination, and problem solving skills they’ll use throughout their lives. Dr. Ginsburg also notes that free play can do wonders toward reducing a child’s stress level.

As a parent, you can make free play an exciting part of the world of your child. Here are some ways to help your child play freely.

When Your Child Plays, Praise the Child

When you observe your child playing, tell the child he or she is doing a great job. Don’t make any suggestions. Encourage imagination and creativity.

Let Your Child Get Bored

Allow your child to get bored. This might sound a little backward but necessity might be just what your child needs to use their imagination. If he or she is to overcome boredom, it may take time. If your child should complain about having nothing to do, don’t offer any suggestions. If free play is to begin, your child should come up with an idea themselves.

Make Open-Ended Toys Available

Simple toys such as dolls, blocks, and balls can encourage your child’s imagination. Coloring books and board games have rules your child must follow, so avoid the excessive use of them. Toys that require your child to make them work through imagination—instead of being battery powered—should be a big part of their regular play.

Think back to your own childhood. Things like playsets, clay, blocks, and more all allowed you to come up with games and scenarios yourself. Through imagination, you could travel to different worlds or be anything you dreamed. Limiting technology use and encouraging free-play toy use can give your own child the same thing.

Invite Neighborhood Friends

Encourage your kids to play together in and out of the home. That way when the kids of the neighborhood see your kids, they’ll come over to play. Remember the days when you were a child, and the neighborhood children came to play with you. Mike Lanza’s book, Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play, suggests things like putting your children’s playground equipment in front of your house and put a sign saying, “Please Trespass.” If you wish, you can put a picnic table in front as well.

However, this isn’t always possible. Engage other neighborhood parents to get together with all the kids for regular playtime at a park or in a protected, safe backyard area. Be sure to handle any issues with pest control or safety before any playdates or outdoor play sessions with your children.

Play is an essential part of being a child. It helps with healthy development and overall happiness. As a parent, you need to encourage them to use their imagination and play, play, play!

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.
Tim Esterdahl

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