Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Let's Play!" Series: What is Play, and Why it's SO Important

Welcome to my Let's Play! series!!

My first "official" post is going to be kind of a summary on my feelings on why telling your child "Let's Play!" is so important!

So what is "play" and why is it so important, anyway?

Playtime for kids is a HOT topic lately. There are some big stories floating around about it - have you seen the one about schools that are doubling/tripling recess times and seeing improvements in students' work because of it?

Playtime for our kids is complete freedom. Open-ended activites where they can make their own choices and interact with their peers under their own choosing. Playtime is where children's minds can rehearse favorite activites, explore new possibilites, and foster friendships and find commonalities with peers. It's a lot of self-discovery and learning about their environment!

It's where they explore "what happens if..." and learn the positive and negative consequences of their actions.

This is so, so important for our kids to learn these things in the world that they are growing up in. These are the simple lessons that will lead them into learning how to self-manage and deal with adult topics as they grow. These are skills that cannot be taught by pencil and paper, they cannot be taught by a school teacher (although they can be improved upon in school)...it starts at home. We have a responsibility as parents to create little humans that know how to interact with their peers, how to have compassion, how to be responsible for their thoughts and actions, and how to ultimately contibute to society.

Seems like a daunting task, huh? A lot of responsiblity on our shoulders as parents!

But I'm telling you...it all starts with play. Good ole fashoined playtime.

We build all of our skills as adults on the basics: simple addition turns into calculus and a career in engineering.

It's no difference for our kiddos!

Did you know that LARGE MOTOR skills are a prerequisite for handwriting?! Think about it: if your child cannot control and coordinate their large body movements, then how will they be able to sit at a table, hold a writing instrument, apply appropriate pressure, and form legible letters?

That is what playgrounds are for. Climbing stairs. Catching a ball with two hands. Hopping down the sidewalk.

PLAYTIME.

On the surface, playtime looks pointless. But throwing that sippy cup down the stairs is teaching about gravity (what happens when I throw this?), trial and error (does it fall down the stairs every time I throw it?), science (it makes a noise when it goes down the stairs and hits the floor!), social interactions (mommy takes my cup away when I throw it)...and learning the positive/negative consequences (I'm thirsty when my cup is taken away...and when I hold it nicely I get to keep my cup).

I assure you, playtime is not pointless!

Does screentime/tablet time/iPad time count as playtime?

YES. And no. Here's why: it's all about how it's offered.

Ava has learned soooo many things from her iPad games. I have chosen only educational apps...except for one - YouTube for Kids. She's learned colors and her alphabet and numbers and fingerplays and all sorts of things. She was becoming an iPad addict. And I knew something needed to change. So I deleted the YouTube app - it was full of mostly pointless videos (Baby Big Mouth, anyone?!) and Ava even found a video series about a toddler who would run around her house, destroying it - putting toys in the toilet and saying "being naughty is fun!"

OMG NO. Just NO.

Sometimes Ava would find Mother Goose Club or Daniel Tiger, shows I am ok with.

The funny thing is, is that as soon as I deleted that app, Ava basically lost interest in the iPad altogether. So I put it away! Cold turkey. And she only asked for it once. Ava has been tablet-free for about 3 weeks now, and guess what...her pretend play has exploded!

I am still pleased with what the educational apps have to offer. Technology is an imporant part of play, as well. Our kids will need to be able to navigate and interact with a lot of forms of technology as they get older and choose a career.

People say, "my child doesn't play with toys". Maybe step back, take and unbaised look at yourself and your household, and consider why that is. Is there too much screen time? Do you sit and show your child how to play? Do you teach them the appropriate ways to play? I'm guilty of these things sometimes. I use the screen as a distraction when I have things to do or just need some space. I think we all do that, no matter our good intentions! But don't forget to balance that out by making those screens unavailable and getting back to playtime.

But shouldn't I focus on my child's education? And getting them involved in extra-curriculars?

Let's get back to basics, people. Education is important, of course. But it's not the only thing our children need. Sports and activites are great - a child learns how to be a team player, how to be coachable, and how to manage their time. But only if parents let that happen! I kinda feel like the "good intentions" of the modern parent are actually shooting ourselves in the foot. Let's remember, it's not about always keeping our child happy, it's about the lessons our children are learning. Sometimes we lose a game. Sometimes we DON'T get a prize. Sometimes life isn't fair. As adults, we know these things all too well. Our kids will be in for the shock of their lives if we can't help them begin to understand the realities of this world while they are still little. We need to help our kids learn how to manange their feelings, and that it's okay to be sad/mad/frustrated. It's about how we react to the hard times and move forward.

And we can teach them these skills through playtime. Taking turns. Cooperative play and sharing ideas. Working together to build a lego tower. Or role-playing while they play dress-up. It all comes back to play.

I think as adults we've all thought, I just wish I could be a kid again. To not have all of these responsibilites. To be carefree. To not have a worry in the world. TO PLAY.

So let's take the pressure off of our kids. Let's take the pressure off of ourselves to provide the "biggest" and the "best" and the "most" for our kids.

Let them be little.

Let them PLAY.

And please don't feel judged for your own parenting style - I promise you, you are a FABULOUS parent. We are all doing the best we can! Just a little perspective for you on this rainy Sunday!

I hope this has piqued your interest and you'll join me on my upcoming posts in my "Let's Play!" series! Thanks for reading!

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