By Malkia “Kia” McLeod and Tresa Hanna
Do you remember life before the Internet, mobile phones and gaming systems? For one thing, you had to be more creative. This meant wrapping a towel around your neck as a cape and becoming superman. Then you fought the evil villain and saved the damsel in distress, which was usually your younger sibling. You amused yourself and perhaps others too, by pretending to be a mommy—cleaning house or shopping for groceries.
For today’s children, there are plenty of electronic games to hold their attention and keep them on the couch for countless hours. The problem, however, is that technology leaves little room for using your imagination. While it’s true that life has changed significantly for parents, the importance of imaginative or pretend play remains the same for children.
“When we play, we are using our physical, intellectual, emotional, and social muscles all simultaneously,” said Patty Stine, the co-founder of Pure Play Every Day, Inc., a non-profit organization that brings play opportunities to children and communities. “Play is the time when our ‘whole-self’ is fully engaged in the task at hand.”
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report, play between children and their peers or parents is an opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain. In the absence of safe, nurturing relationships in a child’s life, when play, safety and stability are rare, toxic stress disrupts the development of these essential skills. The report concludes in these situations play is even more important for healthy development.
“During playtime, children are more accepting of things going wrong and finding ways to correct them,” said Stine. “This process helps develop problem solving skills, which leads to computational thinking processes.”
The Era of Play Chats
In recent years, global organizations have moved beyond the research by using technology to highlight the value of play. Leading the conversation is the US Play Coalition, which hosts a monthly #Weplaychat on Twitter.
“As adults, we become focused on the ‘important’ things in life like keeping our family fed and secure,” said Stine. “The monthly #Weplaychat reminds us that play is also a vital part of our life, and it explores the many ways that play is integrated into life around the world.”
According to the US Play Coalition’s website, the #Weplaychat was launched in 2016 and engages groups from eight countries that span four continents. The US Play Coalition, in partnership with groups such as Nickelodeon, also hosts the annual Worldwide Day of Play in September and Play Conference in March. The three-day event, which brings together park and recreation professionals, educators, community leaders, psychologists, physicians, and parents, focuses on issues such as health, education and equity.
Time to Play
There’s no doubt that play, says the AAP report, plays a critical role in children’s development and learning. During the last decade or so, technology has changed the way children play and what parents and families consider adequate playtime. But with so many groups dedicated to promoting it, good old-fashion imaginative or pretend play still has a future. Just remember that playtime is the perfect time for parents and families to interact with their children. So the next time you and your children have a little leisure time, put away the laptop and pull out the Play-Doh or Legos. Try building the eighth wonder of the world or whatever masterpiece you and your children can imagine together.
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