Play Helps Children Practice Key Skills and Build their Strengths

In today's increasingly digital world, children and teens are spending a significant amount of time engrossed in devices. While these devices offer numerous learning opportunities, there are certain skills that they cannot teach. Play, in its various forms, plays a crucial role in helping children and teens develop key skills and build their strengths. This article will delve into the importance of play in bolstering executive function, mood regulation skills, and overall healthy development. As parents and caregivers, it is vital to recognize the value of play and actively encourage device-free playtime for our children.

Play is the Work of a Child

Children naturally engage in play as a means to learn and practice essential skills. Executive function, emotional regulation, and physical abilities are among the skills that children develop through play. It is crucial to acknowledge play as the primary work of a child. In a world where devices are becoming increasingly pervasive, and children are overloaded with scheduled lessons and organized activities, it is easy to overlook the significance of device-free play.

Parents and children are, unfortunately, forgetting how to play. In the past, parents used to bring toys to entertain their children while waiting, but now it has become common for parents to hand their child a device instead. The ubiquity and convenience of devices have made it challenging to put them aside and engage in other activities. It is important to recognize this trend and make a conscious effort to reintroduce playtime into children's lives.

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard has developed valuable resources for parents, offering age-appropriate games and activities to support children's development. These activities not only help children build crucial skills but also strengthen the parent-child relationship.

Great Games for Younger Children (Ages 4 to 7)

During the early years of life, play is centered around building brain connections and fundamental skills. As children progress in age, play expands to incorporate thinking, creativity, cooperation, and physical movement. Here are some game ideas suitable for children aged 4 to 7:

  • Freeze Dance, Red Light Green Light, Simon Says, or Duck Duck Goose: These games promote physical activity while reinforcing self-regulation and cooperation skills.
  • I Spy, Bingo (including Opposites Bingo), and matching games: These activities enhance memory and cognitive abilities.
  • Storytelling and drawing collaborations: Starting a story and having others add to it encourages creativity. Similarly, taking turns embellishing a drawing can spark imaginative narratives.

Great Games for Older Children (Ages 8 to 12)

As children enter the 8 to 12 age group, they become capable of more complex activities. Engaging in these activities together with your child strengthens the bond between you and supports their cognitive and physical development. Consider the following ideas:

  • Solving puzzles: Jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, and other mind games enhance memory and planning skills.
  • Strategic games: Chess, Battleship, Go, Magic the Gathering, or Clue are games that stimulate critical thinking and strategic planning.
  • Sports and physical activities: Engage in sports, skating, yoga, or running together. These activities promote physical fitness while setting a positive example.
  • Learning an instrument: Encourage your child to learn a musical instrument, and consider learning alongside them.
  • Creative projects: Teach your child skills such as cooking, building, sewing, crochet, or gardening. These hands-on activities provide a playful learning experience.

Play Opportunities for Teens

As teenagers strive for independence and spend more time with peers, play opportunities take on different forms based on individual interests. While balancing moderation, various activities can foster creativity, life skills, and fun for teens. Examples include sports, cooking, music, theater, and even video games within healthy limits.

Wrapping Up

Play is a vital component of a child's development. It helps children and teens practice essential skills, regulate their emotions, and foster healthy growth. In a world increasingly dominated by digital devices, it is crucial to recognize the importance of play and ensure that children have ample opportunities for device-free playtime. By encouraging and participating in various play activities, parents and caregivers can support children's development and build stronger relationships.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Why is play important for children's development? Play allows children to practice key skills, including executive function, emotional regulation, and physical abilities. It helps them learn, be creative, and interact with others.
  2. How can parents encourage device-free playtime? Parents can set aside dedicated playtime, provide a variety of toys and games, engage in activities together, and limit device usage during specific hours of the day.
  3. What are the risks of excessive device use for children? Excessive device use can lead to sedentary behavior, reduced physical activity, impaired social skills, and increased risks of obesity and mental health issues.
  4. How does play contribute to healthy brain development? Play stimulates neural connections, promotes problem-solving skills, enhances memory, and supports the development of creativity and imagination.
  5. Can teenagers benefit from play as well? Yes, play remains important during the teenage years. Engaging in activities of interest, such as sports, music, and creative endeavors, can foster personal growth, creativity, and social connections.
Wynne Lee, MD

Dr. Wynne Lee is a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where she provides primary care.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top