What would childhood be without play?

Play is a child’s job.

What would childhood be without play? Play is beneficial and necessary for just about every aspect of child development. A child’s play looks like fun behavior, with no real purpose, but evidence demonstrates that it actually increases brain function, fitness, coordination and cooperation with others.

Research in animals has shown that play increases children’s negotiations skills, how they deal with strangers and how to follow rules as well as development of life skills. Play has many positive effects in a child’s brain including control of their emotions, social interactions, confidence and decision making.

Do parents need to have expensive toys for their child’s development? Not at all. Parents are a valuable source of play and development for their child. Talking with children is important for creating vocabulary that benefits them in school and life. Keep in mind that a conversation with many demands and over-powered by the parent can have the opposite effect of fun on the child.

Unstructured play or free play offers an environment for creativity, physical activity and a way to learn about how the world works. The kids call the shots in this type of play and make the decisions, but are not told what to do. Sports are a form of play and beneficial in many ways but are not free play as the kids are following someone else’s lead. Allowing time for free play in a child’s schedule offers many benefits that structured play cannot.

There is a fear that free play is disappearing with video games, television and computers drawing kids inside to sit for many hours at a time in front of a screen. Parents can help with this challenge by monitoring how long their child is involved in different media sources and getting them involved in different forms of active movement away from media.

The trend of recess slowly disappearing in the school system can have consequences for children. Lack of a safe place at home to run and play puts some children into a situation of not having any place to get physical activity if school recess is eliminated. School recess is also important to help combat childhood obesity in the United States.

Play is shown to be a very important part of growing up for children. Cut back on the video games, find a safe place outdoors or even indoors, let your child interact with other children and use their creative juices to explore their world. Visit the Michigan State University Extension or Michigan 4-H website for fun activities the family can do together.

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