Down time. Chill time. Family time. Whatever you call ‘play’ time, you need more of it, and so do your littles. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has just released a new report on the importance of playtime for children and parents. Urging parents to make more time for play, your pediatrician will be bringing the idea to you soon.
“I think we’re continuously learning that play is really essential for kids — it’s not just an afterthought or an accessory,” says Dr. Kath Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and a report lead author.
Studies Says Playtime Reduces Anxiety in Learning
For young children, play is not just fun and games, it’s actually how they learn. And playful learning reduces stress. It’s no stretch to deduce that parents need playtime, too. But for kids, it can actually make them smarter.
“Play is really brain-building,” says Michael Yogman, M.D., a lead author of the report and chair of the committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. “We tried to give examples of how play enhances the structure and function of the brain,” he adds.
For the report, the authors looked at real-world studies of children’s behaviors. One study involved preschoolers nervous about starting preschool. Half were assigned to listen to an adult reading a story. The other half were given a 15-minute play session. Guess which group had a two-fold decrease in anxiety? The play group.
Parents Are the Silver Lining
But more playtime for little kids and parents doesn’t mean more vacations (although those are nice!) It means more playtime at home with parents even before school starts. Play time essentially begins in the first three months of life when you start interacting with your infant. This early form of play — called ‘attunement’ — should be followed by other shared activities as your baby grows. Activities that involve taking turns, or what the authors call ‘serve and return.’
Yogman says playtime with your children at home should not be viewed as a thief, but more as a chance for you to re-experience the joy of your own childhood play. Only, don’t all of the sudden hop online to buy new toys. The AAP says use the simple items you already have around the house as an added boon to creativity. Wooden spoons, blocks, balls, puzzles, cardboard boxes.
Start with Peek-a-boo and Keep Going
As soon as your baby starts responding to your prompts, start being playful. It can begin simply with your baby pointing at something and your following along. Move into peek-a-boo. As the baby grows, bring in more playful games and more point-and-name activities. When he’s old enough, enjoy fantasy play together, dress up, fort building and so on. All of this play together will strengthen your child’s problem solving ability, build attention attention skills and deepen your bonds.
How did parents and little children get away from playtime? It’s a mix of cultural things, but certainly, a call to have more fun is nothing to laugh at!