Have you ever wondered if playtime is really important or how to use play to help your child become happier, healthier or even smarter? Well, I’ve got you covered…
This morning my oldest daughter woke up in a terrible mood. Thanks to a winter storm, school was canceled yesterday and the idea that she had to get up and go to class today after the fun of playing at home was just too much for her.
We were in full meltdown mode!
What I wanted to do was yell, cry, go back to bed and bury my head under the covers (or a combination of all three) – none of which would have worked based on what history has told me.
Instead, I tried something different…
I started tickling her.
And, guest what?
Within ten minutes, she was happy, laughing, playing games with me and yes… even dressed and ready for school!
It was amazing.
So, why did I try something different?
Last night, I watched the Mom Conference and saw an interview with Amanda Morgan from NotJustCute.com. She has dual degrees in Elementary and Early Childhood Education and a Masters in Human Development, focusing on childhood.
She was talking about the power of play for our kiddos – and let me tell you, what she said really made an impact.
Here’s what you need to know about the power of play and how to harness it to make your child happier, healthier and smarter and create deeper, more meaningful family connections.
Why is play so important?
Did you know that the need for play, not only in our kids but in ourselves, is backed by science?
That’s because the impulses for play come from our brain stems – the most primitive part of our brain that’s responsible for every impulse that preserves and sustains our life, like breathing and sleep).
This means that play is considered by the brain to be a critical function.
To top it off, play is also correlated with well-being and happiness. In fact, as the amount of playtime has gone over the last 50 years, the number of cases of psychological disorders, like anxiety, depression and narcissism has gone up – a sign that we need the release valve that play provides.
How Play Helps Your Child’s Brain
And, play is conducive to learning as well.
Dr. Stuart Brown, one of the world’s leading play researchers, says “Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.”
And, as well as helping brain growth, when a child plays, their brain is awash in feel-good chemicals like serotonin (the happiness hormone). This enhances their ability to listen and learn – the reason my daughter settled down and got ready for school once we flipped the switch and created an enjoyable morning environment.
Think about it for a second…
When you’re stressed out, upset and feel bad about yourself or the world around you, how likely are you to be open to new ideas or experiences?
Not very, right?
But, when you’re happy, you’re ready to try new things because you feel like you can take on the world.
That’s what play gives our kids!
But, what type of play is the right kind?
Structured vs. Free Play
There are two types of play time, structured and free play.
Structured play is like when you set out playdough for your little one and tell them to build a snowman by making three separate balls of dough and stacking them on top of each other.
In this type of play, your kiddo isn’t in charge – you are.
Free play is when you step back and let your child play what they want to play. They pick the game, the rules, the participants and every other detail of the experience. They are in charge.
It may turn into a magnificent moment where they’ve created their own fairy tale or it may look as simple as them sitting staring at a wall as they daydream or drive a car around in a circle over and over and over again.
The points is that they are choosing.
Now, there’s no doubt that our munchkins need both types of play.
Structured play is great for getting kids to work together and follow directions. But, they can get too much of it.
In fact, for many kids, structured play is just about all they get.
That’s why it’s so important to make an effort to include time for free play in our kids’ lives.
Free play helps them develop their experiences, negotiating skills (as they decide between themselves who’s going to do what and create their own game), their social skills and their ability to self-direct.
That last part was what struck me the most.
Play helps our kids learn to self-direct so that when they grow up and are no longer living at home, they know how to make their own decisions.
That’s a huge benefit!
How to Use the Power of Play in Your Child’s Life
Obviously, helping your child get more playtime can be a great idea.
But, how do you find the time?
That was always my thought.
After all, how am I supposed to work, cook the meals, do the laundry, help with homework, take care of the dishes, shop for groceries, clean the house and on and on and still find time to help my kids play too?
And, that is what I really learned…
I don’t have to necessarily help my kids play, I just have to give them the opportunity to do it and let them take it from there.
So, set out a box of toys and let your kids find it on their own and make up a game, give them popsicles and send them outside to eat and see what happens or join in and chase them around the house for hugs before bed.
The more play, the better.
But, what if I have children of all different ages?
Play for All Ages
Having kids that span a big age range can make it more challenging to create playtime opportunities but here are a few tips to make it work for you:
- Emphasize family relationships – Tell the older kiddos how much you appreciate their help with the little ones.
- Follow their lead – Put one child in charge of playtime and everyone else follows their lead and then rotate the next time. This gives each child a chance to create games and make their own choices.
- Do more open-ended activities – Instead of picking a board game, try open-ended activities like outdoor time where every child can play at their own level.
- Don’t wait – Don’t wait until you can do something big, like spend a day at the beach. Instead, incorporate play, even in small ways, into your daily lives.
Play is a great way to make your child happier, healthier and smarter and really strengthen your family bonds. Use the tips above to create a powerful playtime experience that will pay off for years to come.
For more ideas for family playtime, check out this post on 15 Family Fun Night Ideas that Won’t Break the Bank.
And, as always I wish you a strong family, optimal health and smart incomes,