Let’s get back to play

Last weekend, my boys and I boosted their brain power.

No, we didn’t memorize anything, work on fine motor skills, learn the alphabet, count or sort things. We played. Not just any play–child-directed play, which is a kind of play that is important to kids’ learning, and one that is disappearing from our preschools, kindergartens, and even homes. In an attempt to boost test scores and to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act (and get grants), schools have adopted more rigorous schedules, opting for more reading and math and less imaginary play and down time, as well as art, music and physical education. As a result, kids are missing out on the brain-boosting power of play.

When play is child-directed, children exercise more of their brain, using higher-level thinking in negotiation, decision making, conflict resolution, confidence, creativity and leadership, among others, as Kenneth R. Ginsberg, MD, MSEd stresses in his 2007 Pediatrics article The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. When children take part in adult-directed play, the rules are given to them and the goals set down for them, which is how kids spend the majority of their school day and home life. While following adults’ rules and goals is important for children to learn, many children completely miss out on free play, child-directed imaginary play, in this age of overscheduling, classes, competitive academic preschools and excessive screen time.

So this weekend, when my six-year old said that our acreage was our town, that he was the sheriff, his toddler brother was the animal caBlogTree2retaker, and I was the “magnets” (maintenance) worker, I said, “Okay, I have some trees to cut down over here. How are things looking for you over there, sheriff? Do you need me to fix anything there?” He decided that he was a sheriff whose hobby was tree bark mining. He climbed trees, establishing one as his headquarters, where his little brother climbed the lower part of the tree. We swept the streets of our town, pushing all the dry leaves into a pile, where my miner continued his mining, and he and the toddler rolled in leaves. When we went into town to get groceries, he corrected me, telling me we were going to a neighboring town to stock up on supplies for our town. So I went with it. We bought medical supplies for our pharmacy, tools for our hardware store, and groceries for our market.

It didn’t take much more effort for me to say yes, to take part in his imaginary play. It only takes a yes and a few minutes for the adults in a child’s life to make his day and help him make fun progress toward higher level thinking. From now on, I am going to catch myself when I want to say “Later,” or suggest something I’d rather do, and I’m going to say yes to taking part in HIS play.

Let’s all say yes, and let’s get back to play.


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