Earlier this week the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a statement that details the importance of play for a young child’s developing mind. Its title is “Simple prescription: Pediatricians have a role in promoting healthy development though play,” and it summarizes the upcoming article “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children” which will be published in the journal Pediatrics next month.
The idea that play is important for child development is not new – in 2007 the AAP had its first clinical report on it. Time and time again, and with increasingly powerful data, play has shown to improve success later on in life, with areas affected including creativity, resilience, problem-solving skills, collaborative skills, and handling stress. These are critical skills for success, not just in school but in life. With the focus of preschool programs now aiming at premath and preliteracy skills, and preparing our children for automatic success once in grade school, we’ve moved away from play. Our toddler and preschool-aged children now “work” on their letters and numbers. This unfortunately has not improved school success, and is clearly shown in the data reported.
So what is play? According to the article “there is a growing consensus that it is an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery. Play is voluntary and often has no extrinsic goals; it is fun and often spontaneous.” It is also free from real-life consequences – it allows failure as part of the experience.
When parents play with their children, they benefit themselves as well. Studies also show it improves parent-child relationships, diminishes caregiver stress, and let’s just be honest: it’s fun! You get to re-experience the joys you likely had as a child, and hopefully experience newfound fun as well.
Play can look like anything. It can be make-believe, or it can be physical with chasing/tagging/peekaboo-ing. It can be drawing and singing and dancing. It can be solo and in group form. It can be sitting down and reading your favorite book, or making up your own stories. Play takes on all forms, because it is as broad in scope as the mind itself. It is magical in its moments both shared and observed from afar.
With school starting back and the stress it so often brings (school supplies, juggling schedules, planning after-school activities, ugh!), let us not forget this part of our role as caregivers, parents, and teachers. Play! Have fun, and foster that sense of joy and playfulness with your littles – in fact, consider it doctor-ordered 🙂