My fondest memories as a child include playing outside with my brother.
We played in our grandparents barn, jumping from hay bale to hay bale.
We played in the rye fields and threw clumps of dirt at each other, laughing until our sides hurt.
These memories do not include television shows, sports, or video games.
Because my mother knew the importance of allowing us to be bored, create our own games, and entertain ourselves. She taught us how to play.
Play is beneficial and children should be encouraged to be allowed to play.
Benefits of Play
According to a clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.”
Play is essential in everybody’s life. One of the most important gifts we can give our children is the habit of playing.
Play teaches children how to communicate and cooperate with their peers.
Playing serves a variety of benefits such as:
- Promoting healthy brain development
- Development of flexible and compassionate thinking
- Emotional regulation of feelings and thoughts
- Stimulating your child’s imagination and creativity
- How to communicate and cooperate with peers
- Physical benefits such as coordination, dexterity, and strength
How to Encourage Play
Limit Screen Time: This is probably the most difficult for many parents, but consider getting really serious about limiting their screen time. This means that as a parent you must do this as well.
It is difficult to enforce something unless it is being modeled by yourself as well.
By not using the screen as a form of entertainment forces children to use their own imaginations.
Spend Time With Them
The best way to teach anybody is by modeling it yourself. You do not have to be an expert in whatever the activity is.
Your presence is all that is required.
Nothing shows a child how loved they are more than a parent taking the time to play with them. By focusing on the child, you are enforcing that play is important.
One of the best ways to spend time together is playing games as a family. We enjoy Scrabble, Monopoly, Mad Gab, Trivial Pursuit, and Scattegories. There are a variety of other family-centered games that are fun and enjoyable to play as a family as well. You can check out some here, on Amazon.
Let Them Get Bored
It is good for a child to be bored. It allows them to be creative, think of things to do, and entertain themselves by free playing or playing their own games.
Organize a Playgroup
When my children were all under the age of seven, a core group of us held weekly playgroups for all of our children.
Television was never on. The children played inside or outside.
We often went to the park, beach, or each others homes. This was a weekly tradition for nearly five years; and to this day those playgroups hold some of the fondest memories.
It was often loud, chaotic, and fun but these playgroups allowed our children to learn how to role play, communicate, and get along with others.
Bonus: Mom’s got a chance to connect and have a visit as well.
Eliminate One Night of Afterschool Activities
Children do not need to have every minute of their lives planned with sports and activities. Choose one night where nothing happens.
Watch the creativity explode and enjoy each others company without the distractions of the world around you.
Leave this night open for free time or free play.
An unstructured (no planned activities) evening at home will promote family bonding, promote relaxation, and creative play.
Let those imaginations run wild. Get out the art supplies. Go to the park. Sit on your front porch and watch your children play.
It does not matter what your children do as long as they (no matter the age) have time to be kids.
Give Them Toys that Promote Creativity:
Stay away media characters. Instead provide arts and crafts, building supplies, and dress up clothes.
Toys that are too specific in function eliminate creativity and imagination.
But toys that are open-ended promote use of their imagination.
Here are a few ideas that all children love and that help to encourage play.
- Empty boxes and markers become an art project that they can play in.
- Dress up clothes are fun for all ages.
- Scrap pieces of wood, nails, and hammer. See what fun projects they will build.
- Marbles, blocks, and a Hot Wheels race track. Make your own marble runs.
- Playdough (or make your own) and kitchen utensils.
- Paint and paper.
- Sticks or branches, leaves, and a shovel. They can make their own fort outside.
- Blankets to make an inside fort.
Get Them Outside
Our ancestors spent a lot of time outside and much of it was working on the farm.
However, the art of playing outside is lost for so many.
Long gone are the days when families would regularly walk around the neighborhood visiting neighbors or sitting on their front porches; watching children play ball or with neighborhood kids.
As a child, my parents had my brother and I play outside for hours. We swam, climbed trees, made forts, dug holes, rode bikes, played basketball, and walked or ran everywhere.
Our time was not scheduled for sports or activities, we had all the time on our hands.
But yet we were never bored.
In fact, we never wanted to go back inside when it was time to go in.
By playing outside we learned how to entertain ourselves, kept physically healthy, and gained a respect for being outside.
Maybe you live in a city, or your children do not like being outside. The goal is to just get outside.
Start with the goal of being outside for 20 minutes and work your way up from there.
Go for a walk. Enjoy nature. Take pictures. Do a leaf collection. Identify birds, trees, or flowers. Ride a bike.
Play at the park.
Play ball. Have a race.
Go for a hike or swim at the beach.
Sit in your own backyard and just watch your children have fun.
If you have older children, sit on the front step or back porch and talk. Have a conversation.
Encouragement of Play
There is no right or wrong answer in how to play. But the benefits of play are numerous for both children and adults alike.
What memories do you want your children to have?
Will there be memories of favorite video games and phone apps?
In the last half of a century, play has been given an unimportant role in many families lives, making it a less important priority compared to work, school, or sports.
There is more value placed on performances, achievements, and success in sports, personal lives, or at work than on play.
Play helps a child grow both socially and emotionally.
Play is beneficial for physical and mental development.
And of course, there must be a good balance work and play. But play should be a crucial part of a child’s daily life.
How do you encourage your children to play?