By Steve Pasierb, Special for USDR
For past generations, play was a child-initiated, open-ended activity that spontaneously occurred throughout the day. But for kids today, play is something of a luxury, with many American families bogged down by schoolwork and demanding extracurricular activities. As free, imaginative play dwindles, are children missing out? According to play and child development experts, the answer is a resounding “yes”.
“Children no longer come home from school and go out and play,” says Fran P. Mainella, co-chair of the U.S. Play Coalition. “This has caused major heath issues. Children know how to play from the time of birth, but we have been teaching them how not to play.”
Dr. Michael Patte, a professor of education at Bloomsburg University, agrees. He says the heavy schedule of daily activities of the average American child leaves little time for unstructured play. “Time devoted to children’s play has fluctuated in America over the past century and common barriers limiting unstructured play today include an extended school day, an overemphasis on academic achievement, and parental fear for child safety,” says Patte.
Play produces many physical, emotional and intellectual benefits that simply can’t be replicated in a classroom, at piano lessons, or during soccer practice. When activities are adult-directed and focused on achieving a specific outcome, children are denied the opportunity to explore, create, and “learn by doing.”
This sentiment reflects the philosophy behind the Genius of Play – a research-backed campaign dedicated to helping parents and educators raise smarter, healthier and happier kids through the power of play. The Genius of Play website (www.thegeniusofplay.org) invites parents to take the ‘play pledge’ and “promise to give the child in your life the opportunity to play!” Pledges are free and easy to submit; best of all, for every pledge that is made a toy will be donated to a child in need.
The Genius of Play has collected a vast amount of research showcasing the striking benefits of play. Studies show that play helps with flexibility of thought and problem solving and it increases a child’s confidence. Physical play, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, controls obesity, reduces fat and improves muscle, bone and heart health. Symbolic play fosters cognitive, social and academic development, while also growing critical 21st century skills, such as imagination and creativity. In a survey of 1,500 CEOs, it was revealed that to prepare for careers in the 21st century, children needed more than rigor and managerial discipline — it is creativity that will play a much greater role in problem solving, negotiations, cultural adaptation, and more.
The good news is that it’s never too late to get children playing. Whether they are enjoying unstructured playtime by themselves or with friends, it’s important to allow them to run around, create, and use their imaginations. To get the ball rolling, the Genius of Play offers an array of play ideas and tips to help parents and educators bring the benefits of play to their children and students. Visit www.thegeniusofplay.org to learn more.