Why Your Kid Needs to Play

By Adrienne Appell

Jennifer Cox’s son, Cameron, is two and a half years old and like most toddlers, his days are spent filled with play. Cox, a work-from-home writer, is very hands-on when it comes to her son’s development. She makes a conscious effort to give him plenty of both unstructured and structured playtimes.

“When it comes to playing, I’m all about using your imagination,” says Cox. “I want him to use his imagination as much as possible.”

Cameron is a lucky boy. He is in a home that encourages intellectual and physical activities on a daily basis, both inside and outdoors. As he grows older, Cox says she and her husband will continue to allow Cameron plenty of time to play.

Their parenting style reflects the philosophy behind the Genius of Play—a campaign dedicated to helping parents and educators raise smarter, healthier and happier kids through the power of play.

Studies show play helps with flexibility of thought and problem solving and it increases a child’s confidence.

Physical play, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, controls obesity, reduces fat and improves muscle, bone and heart health and also helps build emotional and social skills.

Symbolic play fosters cognitive, social and academic development, while also growing critical 21st-century skills, such as imagination and creativity.

However, many children today are shuttled around to a multitude of structured activities initiated or led by adults, which does not produce the same physical, emotional, social and intellectual benefits associated with free play.

A survey by the Journal of Pediatrics shows that 30% of children said they had no recess in their school day.

“Common barriers limiting unstructured play today include an extended school day, an overemphasis on academic achievement, and parental fear for child safety,” says Dr. Michael Patte, a professor of education at Bloomsburg University.

And children no longer come home from school and play, says Fran P. Mainella, co-chair of the US Play Coalition. “Children know how to play from the time of birth, but we have been teaching them how not to play,” Mainella says.

The good news is that it’s never too late to get children playing. Take a play pledge to give your child time to play. For each pledge, a toy is donated to a child in need.

Get the ball rolling with these play ideas and tips:

  • Acorn Necklaces: Gather several acorns with their stems still attached. Pick an acorn to bling out with paint and glitter, then tie two ends of a long string around the acorn stem to make a necklace! (Spoonful.com)
  • Harvest Dash: Relay races with an autumn twist! Set up two containers filled with sunflower seeds or birdfeed, and put two smaller, empty bins several feet away. Have the kids break into teams and line up by the full container. At the start of the race, the first player fills up his/her cup with seeds, races to dump them into the empty bin, sprints back and hands the cup off to his/her next teammate. The first team to completely fill up the container with seeds wins!
  • The Great Harvest Dig: The harvest hunt is on! Hide a dozen apples, mini pumpkins and gourds in a storage bin filled with seeds or hay (one per kid). Time them to see who finds all of the harvest the fastest!
  • Ice Maker: When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, step outside with bubble blowers in hand. Dip the wand, blow bubbles, and watch them freeze! (Parents.com)
  • Snow Carving & Castles: Let your imaginations run wild, as you and your family build snow sculptures! Use wooden kitchen utensils to carve out the details. You can also use sandcastle molds to make snow castles!
  • Strike Out: A snowy spin on baseball! Use snow to make a pitcher’s mound and three bases, similar to a baseball diamond. Each base should be about 2 feet high. In front of every base, stack tin cans to create a pyramid. Then, throwing snowballs from the pitcher’s mound, players try to knock the cans down, starting at first base and finishing at third base. The player who knocks all the cans down with the fewest pitches wins! (Spoonful.com)

Adrienne Appell is the Toy Industry Association’s leading trend specialist of toys and the impact of play on healthy childhood development.

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