Stuart Brown, M.D, author of Play: how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul, asserts that play is an essential component of success for both adults and children; noting that the majority of Silicon Valley corporations include ping-pongs tables, slides instead of stairs, and game rooms. Corporate human resource departments have found that more opportunities for employees to play equate to better innovation, greater wellness, and an increase in productivity. With an increased emphasis on play in the corporate sector, play in childhood has needs greater attention. Many researchers contend the decline of childhood free play is linked to the rise in anxiety, depression, and vision disorders. Play has many benefits for optimal cognitive, physical, and emotional/social development. With a sharp rise in sensory-related issues and anxiety among children, the need for play has never been greater.
Parents and educators can address these concerns by providing ample opportunities for play that involves movement and sensory-related activities. The following are a few suggestions:
- Getting Outside- The value of playing outside in nature can’t be overestimated. Studies indicate that experiences in nature build cognitive capacities, enhance mental functions, and increase the immune system. Outdoor play helps children grow strong, healthy, and learn to assess risks. It also counteracts obesity issues facing many children today.
- Make time for play- As parents, we are the biggest advocates for children’s learning. Make sure they have as much time to play as possible during the day to promote cognitive, language, physical, social, and emotional development. The imagination forms the basis for thought and because the young brain naturally seeks symbolic experiences, play fosters an impressive array of skills that are necessary for school success including taking another’s perspective, regulating one’s emotions, taking turns with peers, sequencing the order of events, and recognizing one’s independence from others. Children who engage regularly in imaginative play are more creative than their peers and often leaders in their peer group. Corporations such as JPL have noted that the most brilliant engineers are the ones who had the most imaginative play when they were young children.
- Play and learning go hand-in-hand, they are not separate activities. They are intertwined; play is a context for child’s learning. Think of play as the laboratory for which to test science, experiments, and personal goals. Play provides rich learning opportunities and leads to children’s success and ability to regulate ones emotions. If you see your child playing at school, take comfort in knowing that learning is occurring.
- Model playfulness with your children- One of the greatest gifts you can enjoy is the insight into your child’s thoughts through the process of play. Have fun and let your imagination create and discovery new possibilities. According to Stuart Brown, this simple act will invigorate your mind and allow you to see new perspectives.