By Kerry Beymer, Parent Education Manager
I recently taught a class about exploring play and the importance of play in child development. We used to think play was important as a stress reliever for learning, but it is through play that children actually learn. So when you tell your kiddos, “Go outside and play,” you are encouraging the growth and development of social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills.
In my classes, I always ask parents if they remember being outside all day long as children and coming home when it was dark. We had the “street light rule” when I was growing up. When the street light came on, we had to come back home. As a mom, I can’t imagine my child being gone all day long without my knowing exactly where he is. Can you? Our world has changed, but the importance of playing and exploring your world has not. So what are we to do as parents?
Developed by Talaris, the Parenting Counts curriculum has helpful tips for moms and dads to encourage play:
Repetition may bore you, but not your child. Children learn by repeating. Let your child play the same game or play with the same toy over and over. They will move on when they are ready.
Make time for play! Many parents think they have to teach through lessons or classes. Often, the best learning takes place during play.
Get involved! Become part of their game rather than trying to lead the way. Let them make the rules.
Let your child take the lead. Playing works best when you respond to your children’s cues and follow their lead.
Let your child determine the pace of play. The best way to teach a new skill is to show your children how something works. Then, step back and give them a chance to try.
Don’t force or prolong play. When your child is tired of an activity, it’s time to move on.
Consider safety. Help your children understand any safety rules for play, and make sure they are supervised. Nothing ruins a good play environment faster than a child getting hurt.
Make an area safe for children to play. Move small or breakable objects out of reach and take safety precautions. When you child-proof an area, you give your child permission to move and play freely.
We know there are many benefits to letting children play and explore their world, but current research suggests that over the past 20 years children have lost 12 hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities. (Hofferth,S.L. 1999)
In the last decade, we have seen a change in how our children play. Their time has focused more on academics, with an emphasis on organized sports and other structured, out-of-home activities. We cannot dismiss how television and computers, in the name of entertainment, have sapped kids’ play and creativity.
My kids are older, but they still love to play with their mom. So while the weather is nice, let’s get out there and PLAY!
Kerry Beymer (pronounced BEE-murr) graduated from Washington State University and has been a parenting educator for more than 15 years. She is Parenting Support and Education manager at Encompass. Kerry has two children, one in college and one in middle school. She recently was certified as a “Parenting Counts Educator” by the Talaris Institute of Seattle. Kerry uses humor and storytelling in her classes in a non- judgmental setting. “Parenting,” she says, “is the most challenging and most important job there is.”