In an era where play is seen as the antithesis of hardcore learning, and free play is often tossed aside in favor of rigid scheduling, lessons, sports and more, we often forget that playing is critical for child development—and its role in setting children up for success as well-balanced, capable adults.
According to the Child Development Institute, play is critical in the development of synapse formation, which starts at birth, all the way until the brain reaches its final stage of development. This process sets the tone for how children relate to the world, solve problems and gain an understanding of relationships.
Play gives children a chance to come up with new worlds that they have agency in, and that allow them to think on their feet, addressing challenges as they come along. Fostering a child’s natural ability during their youth makes them more likely to carry the spirit of innovation well into adulthood, too.
Play offers children a chance to develop on an emotional level, helping kids build self-esteem and confidence, to establish relationships with peers and learn a range of feelings like joy and happiness, as well as the skills needed to cope with stresses that come their way.
Regular physical activity helps kids learn coordination, motor skills, and balance, while at the same time, using their energy reserves. Active kids sleep better and have an easier time managing stress. Plus, kids that get the doctor-recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day are likely to get better test scores when they head back to the classroom.
Activities to Offer Kids for Better Development
While letting kids run around, ask questions and more is great, sometimes a quiet day indoors needs a little fun infused into the mix. Here’s a few ideas to get young brains in motion, and they won’t realize they’re learning.
- Colouring — Between making choices about color and staying in the lines, coloring is a great way to both relieve some stress and focus on creativity. And it doesn’t matter if it’s digital or analog, for something more mess-free, but just as fun, try the Android Mandala Coloring App.
- Puzzles — Great for smaller children, puzzles focus on relationships between the pieces, activating the part of the brain that makes connections.
- Board Games — Similar to puzzles, board games are great for stimulating the brain, and making kids make choices, follow directions and applying big picture strategy to try and outsmart opponents.
Play Doesn’t Need an Academic Element
When it comes down to it, leaving your kids alone from time to time and opting out of the programming shuffle every now and again can be critical to your child’s ability to start navigating the world around them. According to Dr. Alison Gopnik, engaging in pretend play – i.e. imaginary friends, alternate worlds and more, set the tone for a flexible adulthood and don’t require a structured curriculum or set of enrichment worksheets. Offer kids a little space, and trust us, they’ll be learning whether they know it or not.