The Importance of Play
By Sylvia Cochran, Christian Parenting –
Toys and games are a must-have for children. Far too often, children have rooms filled with the latest playthings.
But they are actually deprived of real play enjoyment. Parents must ensure that they allow for ample fun and recreational activities for their children. Why don’t they?
Overly focused on the academic development of children?
When they are infants, parents purchase safe, educational toys to aid the little ones in the development of their cognitive skills. For some parents, the search for educational playthings gradually and over time turns into the hunt for the ultimate instructive tool that allows the kids to get a leg up with respect to entering kindergarten, first grade, middle school and even high school. Gone are the times of idle play and enjoyment of a toy for its own sake; instead, there is playing with a purpose, an ulterior motive. The purpose is the academic prowess of the children.
What the American Academy of Pediatrics says about play
The American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the importance of play by outlining that it is vital for “the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth(1).” The organization blames the increased focus on academic success and the lack of free time as being the primary reasons why children are being deprived of the ability to play.
How parents short-change their children’s enjoyment of free play
In the distant past, toys were simple play things. The Toys Timline site(2) outlines that girls played with dolls while boys played with wooden swords and shields. A stick and a hoop as well as board games were all the rage. Fast forwarding to today, the playrooms of children are filled to brimming with electronic gadgets, battery-powered toys and branded dolls or action figures in various shapes and sizes.
Unfortunately, each game and plaything now comes with rigid and strict rules of play (some of which are possibly determined by manufacturers to lessen the likelihood of liability lawsuits). Adding insult to injury, parents in their attempts to teach children how to “play the right way’ enforce these strict rules and demand adherence. In some cases they go so far as to take toys away from children, if the youngsters fail to follow the rules of the games.
What is lost at this stage is the ability of children to develop their imagination and freely engage toys and playthings as they see fit. Parents willingly shut themselves out of a child’s worldview and instead impose a grownup perception of the toys upon the children.
Cases in point
Consider a time when you saw a child faced with new playthings. Did s/he eagerly rip open the package or take the thing in hand, trying to figure out what it was and how it worked? Sadly, far too often I have seen children who eye a toy or game but will not touch it until prompted by an adult. Even then they ask how to play with the thing. While playing by the rules appears to have been enforced, dexterity and imagination went by the wayside.
Perhaps the best toy my kids ever received was a simple memory game. It is made up of small wooden squares that are very sturdy. On the one side there are pictures of animals; the other side is blank. The rules stipulate that the squares are placed face down onto the floor and then parent and child alternate with turning over two squares; if they match, the player takes them out of the game and goes again. If they do not match, they are turned over again and the next player gets a chance.
What makes these squares so unique is the fact that they can be stood up on their sides and become transformed into stackable, thin square blocks. They can also be set up in a line and as could be done with dominoes then be made to all fall down by simply pushing one block. The kids have enjoyed all kinds of off-label game play with these toys. In some cases they will not play the memory game at all but instead merely stack and knock down the squares.
Take a close look at the toys the children currently have in their rooms. Do they allow for multiple modes of game play? If there is an overage of toys that have one function and cannot be used to play in any other manner, consider adding more multi-taskers. Non-brand name dolls, a plastic sword and shield set, blocks, Legos, hula-hoops, marbles and basic vinyl balls are excellent toys that invite plenty of imaginative play. (Be sure to keep it age appropriate!)
Staying away from brands keeps dolls basic and devoid of the online and television hype surrounding certain brands; the same holds true for the dollar store ball. A soccer ball or a basketball has rules attached to it. A basic vinyl ball does not. It can be kicked, thrown, dribbled, rolled and hit with a stick. Look for ways to balance a child’s toy inventory with these kinds of toys and make time for play that is not tied to any one specific form of academic achievement.
And if you are tempted to chime in and say “but the rules say,,” don’t (as long as the kids are not endangering themselves, others or property)!
“And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing a good city to grow up in.” Zechariah 8:5 (The Message Bible)
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