“Mommy, play with me!”
These words always make me stop.
When I’m rushing to take care of business, these aren’t always the words I want to hear. My daughter needs my attention, but my mind is racing to all the things that need to get done. “Mommy, play with me!” means that I should stop, put it all on hold, and forget that I’m a grownup.
And that isn’t easy.
Yet years from now, will I remember that I sent out that extra email, finished one more draft, and finally got the fridge cleaned out? No.
Will I remember the day that I got to be the Wicked Stepmother in a re-enactment of Cinderella, or a mommy bat, or a cuckoo clock?
Yes, without a doubt, I will never forget it.
Life is important, but sometimes it gets in the way of what’s really, REALLY important.
And play is one of those things. Kids need to play.
It’s a fundamental necessity of childhood. So why is it overlooked, under-appreciated, and under threat?
Kids play…don’t they?
Not nearly as much as they used to.
Why kids need to play and what that really means
By free play I mean unstructured free time for kids during which they can choose to do whatever they want. Not homework time, not lessons or classes, not team sports, TV or technology time. This is play, preferably outside, not guided by but hopefully facilitated by adults, when kids can let their imaginations run wild. When they can dream. And yes, maybe even when they can get bored. Because it is when kids get bored that they start to innovate.
And that’s when things get really interesting.
Why Kids need to play for healthy development
I recently attended the first annual Play Summit in Sacramento on why kids need to play, and why it must be protected. I had the privilege of listening to a key note speech by well-known pediatrician Dr. Melissa Arca. Her informative blog is Confessions of a Dr. Mom.
For Dr. Arca, play is essential to the healthy development of the whole child.
Parents often take the attitude that kids are “only” playing, that it’s just their kids killing time. Many don’t think it’s valuable, but the truth is it’s INVALUABLE.
The benefits of play for children that Dr. Arca described far surpassed my expectations. “When children engage all five senses,” she said, “they are at their maximum potential for learning.” According to Dr. Arca, free play contributes to the physical, cognitive, and emotional development of the child. Play is good for their bodies; it’s a great mood lifter, and it leads to better sleep (“Sleep is the cornerstone of your child’s health,” said Arca.) Play also helps kids focus better in the classroom.
No one can deny the importance of these things, yet less time is being allocated for recess in schools. With the pressures of high stakes testing, and schools needing to make the grade, recess is given lower priority, but this is a big mistake. “Recess is a genuine subject important to academic success and behavior. Recess is a right, not a privilege. We should be prescribing it, not withholding it,” asserts Dr. Arca on why kids need to play.
Kids also gain confidence when they get to try things out and discover their favorite way of doing things. “Free play can be quiet and focused, or messy and spontaneous,” said Dr. Arca. It’s okay for kids to play in mud puddles because life is messy, she says. Let them get dirty!
So this is my promise to my child. Every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, I will get messy and spontaneous with her, or quiet and focused with her. And for 20 minutes a day (at least!), I will let her find freedom in play, and in doing so, let her discover who she truly is.