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Is There a "Right" Way to a Child's Play?

Play is a healthy, essential part of childhood.

Besides all the fun and games, the benefits of play are innumerable. Play helps children develop cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.

Despite its many benefits, statistics show that the amount of time children get to play has been declining for decades. Tightly structured family and school schedules, more parents working outside the home, fewer safe places to play, and rising media use and screen time are among the reasons. For example, research shows the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of TV each day!

To help keep play a key part of childhood, here are some types of quality play that can be incorporated daily.

1. Child-Driven vs. Adult Directed

Active child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies. Child-directed play is a special form of one-to-one play between you and your child in which your child directs and leads. Research shows that playing with your child this way can:

* Build a sense of self-direction and self-confidence in your child

* Foster child language and social development

* Allow your child to receive focused attention from you without having to misbehave to get it

* Strengthen your parent-child bond

* Help you practice parenting skills

2. Active Play vs. Passive Entertainment

Active play happens when a child is involved in playing and interacting with others and/or with objects; whereas passive play is passive or noninteractive. A child needs to be involved in active play a majority of the time because children learn by actively playing. The term "active" does not necessarily mean jumping up and down or running. A child can actively look at a book, put a puzzle together, look at the clouds and create images out of them.

There will be times when all children need to have passive play: when they are tired, angry, or just need a few minutes alone. Watching television or playing electronics is a great example of passive play. Children should be limited in the amount of passive play because children are sensory learners. They are equipped and geared to learn by exploring, examining, and experiencing. When children are participating in an activity, their senses are being fuelled by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch.

3. "True Toys" vs. Passive Toys

A child who actively participates in play will have to interact with the toy (other than pushing a button) to be able to learn from it and enjoy it. A child who is playing with a passive toy may be entertained; however, they are typically sitting back and observing the toy.

Toys that motivate your child to actively partake in play will encourage them to invent their own experiences, make mistakes, have the satisfaction of success and creativity when they try again. They also allow your child to act out life situations to make meaning out of their playing experience.

"True toys" are toys that need YOU to make them work, such as blocks and dolls, with which children use their imagination fully to build active minds and bodies. "Passive toys," with flashing lights and noises, create passive observers with limited imagination. do we want our children to be spectators or contenders?

4. Unscheduled Play vs. Structured Play

Structured play, also known as goal-oriented play, generally involves using logic to solve problems, while unstructured play, or free play, is creative and improvised with no set goal and unlimited possibilities.

Both categories of play are important for instilling a child with a sense of curiosity and purposeful learning. When a child is involved in a structured-play activity, they are learning how to recognize patterns and meet a pre-established goal in the most efficient or effective way. In contrast, unstructured play is about learning how to create from scratch and explore possibilities.

If you are looking to help children and students learn how to solve problems, work toward an individual or collective goal, or improve active listening, structured play is ideal for building these skills. This category of play is also useful for boosting children's confidence, encouraging resilience, and learning how to cooperate within a team and develop stronger communication skills.

Unstructured play builds important qualities such as imagination, creativity, and empathy. Free play lets children enjoy a sense of freedom and control, allowing them to make mistakes in a pressure-free environment. This category of play can help a slow-to-warm-up child learn how to express themselves more clearly, help them learn how to think on their feet, and approach problem-solving from an outside-of-the-box perspective.

5. Nature-Inspired vs. Man-Made

Children who play on playgrounds that incorporate natural elements like logs and flowers tend to be more active than those who play on traditional playgrounds with metal and brightly colored equipment, according to a recent study from the University of Tennessee.

While it still had traditional wood and plastic equipment, the Early Learning Center staff began renovations of the playground and over several months added a gazebo and slides that were built into a hill. They planted dwarf trees, built a creek, and landscaped it with rocks and flowers. They also added logs and tree stumps. The entire place turned into a "natural playscape."

They've found that children more than doubled the time they spent playing, from jumping off the logs to watering the plants around the creek. They were engaging in more aerobic and bone- and muscle-strengthening activities. They also appear to use their imagination more, according to the report. It's also observed that the children were less sedentary and used the traditional playground area less after the renovation.

👣 What type of play did you enjoy the most as a child?

👣 What type of play do your kids do?

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