Let’s Play!

When my child’s teachers apologize for the messy appearance of their classroom at the end of the school day, my first response is usually “better here than at home!” And that, says play experts, is part of the problem.

Kids need unstructured play time for social and emotional development. But providing this time (and the space for it) can be challenging for parents. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control cited in a recent NY Times article, “Play’s the Thing“, indicate that only 20% of children live within walking distance of a park or playground. So it falls on parents to create play spaces at home. And that, says the Times article, means embracing the chaos. Parents must learn “to live with disarray and take other difficult steps, like strict limits on screen time.”

It also means taking an active roll in teaching kids how to play: how to organize their own games and create their own rules. Organizers of The Ultimate Block Party in Central Park, which drew 50,000 people outside to play with sidewalk chalk and mounds of play dough, provided parents with a “Playbook” with ideas for “playful pursuits.” The ideas are frameworks, rather than strictly organized games: turning the couch into a ship destined for far-off lands or building a bridge over a toy with blocks.

The Times article cites a number of play resources for parents who are struggling to get enough play into their kids’ lives. KaBoom is a non-profit that has built neighborhood playgrounds and organized “Play Days.” And Learning Resources Network, a Web site scheduled to launch this spring, will provide tools for parents and educators.

For further reading on play, check out Building Unstructured Play Into the Structure of Each Day from Scientific Learning’s The Science of Learning Blog. That article references a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, which outlines the key benefits of play.

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