PLAY is the foundation of healthy brain development for babies, children, and adolescents. Unfortunately, today’s parents confront their children’s preference for an overwhelming array of electronic media including TV, videos, video games and the internet. Instead of building tree houses, riding bikes, playing Hide n’ Seek, and chasing bugs for their science projects, 21st Century children sit passively facing two dimensional screens. When toys are available, most offer preprogrammed, introverted play dictated by an anonymous video developer whose greatest interest is profiting from his own creativity, not your child’s.
Yet, neuroscience proves that a child’s carefree, imaginative, even messy play develops infinite neural connections to advance fine and gross motor skills, language, socialization, personal awareness, emotional well-being, creativity, problem solving and learning abilities.
Through play, children learn how to make choices and develop connections within and between both hemispheres of their brains. Parents can nurture their children’s play by providing a nurturing home environment, family activities, and toys that encourage art, music, language, science, math, and social relations. Play that links physical activity, problem solving, imagination and social interaction provides the optimum opportunity for healthy brain development.
As a conscious parent, reclaiming your own sense of play has the power to trump the media frenzy. Providing your family with activities and toys that promote true creativity and fun not only strengthen your child’s neural connections, but also your family bonds! Activities that put FUN into FAMILY are best designed with your child’s interests and learning style in mind.
“Every child is wired differently. We all have certain strengths and characteristics that influence our interests. The key is finding things that your children like to do.”
M.D., Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Co-Director, Sports Medicine Center, Mayo Clinic
Ways to strengthen Family Bonds:
- Plant a family garden
- Plan and cook family meals together
- Build collections from family outings, such as shells, rocks, bugs and feathers
- Collect family photos and videos
- Volunteer in your community
- Create your own “Clean Up Litter Campaign”
- Give your kids “Brain Breaks” when doing homework
- Family Fun Night – Charades, Bingo, Scrabble, Show & Tell
- Adopt a family in stress, including military families
- Compete in video games that require movement
- Celebrate birthdays that focus on the child’s interests
- Keep an “under construction” jigsaw puzzle in a family area
- Create family plays – have children and adults reverse roles
- 20 Questions – vary categories animals, songs, movies, books
- Regular visits to your public library, museums, community events
- Develop traditions for birthdays, first and last day of school, holidays
- Family hikes, bike rides, picnics in your backyard, local park, living room floor
What is PLAY?
- PLAY is rehearsal for life in animals and humans.
- If necessity is the mother of invention, PLAY is the father.
- PLAY is its own reward.
- PLAY is the work of the child, toys are the tools.
Play consists of whatever a body is not obligated to do.
“In the Early formative years, play is almost synonymous with life.
It is second only to being nourished, protected and loved.
It is a basic ingredient of physical, intellectual, social and emotional growth.”
PLAY is not JUST PLAY
- Learning and practicing skills
- Practicing new roles
- Concept of self
- Sublimating needs and behaviors
- Integrating life experience
- Developing relationships
- Acting out wishes
- Expressing feelings
- Stress reduction
- Enhancing creativity
The child leads and you follow.
- The child chooses his/her own activity (including active, passive, creative play)
- The child is ALLOWED to work things out, not forced to do so.
In most situations with children, we direct, instruct, correct, coach, praise, criticize, ignore, and make choices for them.
LET YOUR CHILD LEAD YOU
Your child “knows best” what he/she needs to work out.
- Biological, emotional, subconscious
- May not know consciously or be able to communicate it.
- You child has inner strengths and resources to work out his/her own emotional problems and struggles, and will work things out through play if given the right conditions.
- Because you do not know what your child needs to work on any particular day, allow your child to choose. Allow you child to lead you.
PARENT ROLE IN FREE PLAY
- Accept the child as an individual of unique importance and dignity
- Allow the child to lead, including silence, new rules, new ways of playing
- Allow the child to express thoughts, feelings
- Allow the child to evaluate own performance
- Place conditions on acceptance
- Tell the child what to do or how to do it
- Express your own ideas, feelings
- Express your own evaluation of child’s performance (even if it’s positive)
YOUR CHILD NEEDS YOU TO:
- Accept your child’s direction
- Understand your child, and communicate that understanding.
- Give your child your full and undivided attention
- Accept your child’s expressions of anger and hate, love, curiosity, as his honest emotions.
- Be warm and friendly, but not smothering.
If you are:
- Cold or aloof, your child will not feel welcome and won’t express him/herself freely.
- Too “sweet” too “lovey-dovey,” your child may feel unable to express “bad” feelings.
Through play, meet the child’s needs, not your own. We want to relate comfortably and naturally with the child.