Play is important on so many levels – essential to physical strength and dexterity, creativity and problem-solving and also in terms of exploration and forming a connection with the natural world around us. Organized sports are valuable too, but let’s make sure that there is lots of room for play in our children’s lives as well.
Sara Fleming, a Preschool parent alumna and cross-trainer extraordinaire, writes about this trend eloquently and intelligently in her own blog. She specifically focuses on the harm we inflict on our children when we push them to excel in organized sports at too early an age. She brings forth some enlightening statistics on the sports-related injuries our children are suffering and offers common sense and fun solutions. She points out that ‘play’, something that in the adult world is often not looked upon as something productive or essential to ‘getting ahead’, is really just the opposite. Sara writes, “Children, when playing, are doing the most fundamental and important sports training of their lives. Hopscotch, playing tag, climbing trees, etc., builds strong agile bodies capable of performing a variety of tasks.” She is not advocating for the elimination of organized sports for our children, but rather a balanced and common sense approach that focuses less on ‘winning’ or ‘excelling’ and more on increased health, awareness of our bodies and pure enjoyment. Not only will play help your child’s gross and fine motor skills, there are many cognitive benefits to play. Dr. Michele Bourba, an educational psychologist and author, outlines 11 benefits of play on her own website. Many of them are not the least bit surprising – like the fact that play boosts creativity and imagination, teaches problem-solving and conflict resolution strategies and diminishes stress. Play engages the body as well as the brain. Figuring out who gets to go first, or how to make a game more challenging, or what can be done to add additional players requires that our children develop social skills, critical thinking skills and flexibility. Do you remember playing with the neighborhood kids until suppertime? We lived in a remote and very wooded part of Central NY and there were no ‘neighborhood’ kids to play with, but that did not stop my 2 siblings and me from creating all sorts of games to play outside. One of my favorite was a game of tag called ‘Wet Washcloth’. Not much to it, but it was fun and exhausting to play! Last, but not least, Richard Louv writes poignantly in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children for Nature-Deficit Disorder, that by over-scheduling our children and taking away the free-play of years ago we are creating a generation of children with no connection to the land or to nature around them. Play does not have to be something that is even highly active to be beneficial. Cloud-watching, exploring the backyard, looking for bugs are ways for children to play that inspire their interest in the sciences and in nature. It is also a stress-reliever to insert yourself into nature. When we want to relax as adults, don’t we often take a book out to the hammock? Lay in the grass and look at the stars at night? Take a beverage out the patio to listen to the crickets and the peeper frogs sing? Our children need to have the same opportunities to ‘Take it Outside’ and just play.We want the best for our children — we want them to be smart, strong and healthy. This is not always easy to do when we live in a world that seems to move faster and faster. It is tricky to fit in all we want to do along with all we need to do. Our kids feel that same pressure. It is not uncommon to have our children signed-up for more than one (or lots more than one) activity at a time. And not only do they participate, but often times they feel that they must excel at each one so that they will ‘make the cut’ or be chosen to move up to the next level.