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PUTTING THE SPOTLIGHT ON KIDS AND PLAY

By: John Ray Lucas | Illustrations By: Jamie Bauza

Imagine for a second, what do you remember the most as a child?  Playing bahay-bahayan (dollhouse), piko (hopscotch), taguan (hide-and-seek) or probably after school play or playing in the rain would easily come into mind. 

Let me ask you a question.  Is it the same kind of play that you offer to your children now?

Maybe? Or maybe not.

Play is one of the primary occupations of children. By occupations, we mean those activities that a person needs to, wants to, and is expected to do across one’s lifespan, which also promotes quality of life and well-being. With that being said, play is what kids need to, want to and are expected to do. 

According to Bundy (1987) play is “a transaction between the child and environment which is intrinsically motivating, internally controlled and not bound by external reality”. 

  •  Play is intrinsically motivating. 

Children are innately playful and they are always in the “play zone”.  When they play, they are living in the moment. Children are motivated with play simply because it’s a fun thing to do, thus they want to engage in it. They become so absorbed in play that they don’t notice about the time, which sometimes makes it hard for parents to make them stop.  This is the “flow” process , where they engage in focused play even without getting any reward, gain or prize, but just do so for the “love of play”.  They may find joy in doing the most random things, like squishing bananas or molding clay into figures or letters, building a tower using everyday objects, making bubbles while they take a bath, imitating the movements of their favorite pets or just getting themselves wet when they see a water fountain in parks or activity centers.  It may sound silly but to them, it’s play!

  • Play is about suspension of reality.

Pretend play is part of a child’s way of understanding the world which promotes imagination and creativity. They may use objects or things around them, not necessarily toys, and experiment with it out of their curiosity. A wafer stick can be a wand, a spoon can be a person and a string can transform into a worm or a flower. When they play, they become more flexible, adapt to changes and unconsciously learn and discover new ways of doing things! It is spontaneous and free.  With play, the possibilities are endless!

  •  Play is making the child gain internal control.

“I am the boss” is their battle cry when it comes to play.  They think of themselves as the “conqueror” or “explorers” and part of this role makes them focus and pay attention to the world at large.  When they are in control, they can decide how, with what or whom they want to play and interact with.  This is the very heart of free play, when children are in control of how they want to play.  Play should be child-directed, and children should be the main actors, as parents serve supporting roles. 

Why Does Play Matter?

Here are five reasons why children should engage in play:

1. It gives the child a sense of fulfillment, increasing self-esteem and confidence.

Playing gives children much opportunity to experience a lot of small wins as they explore playgrounds, discover different materials and manipulate toys.  This builds their confidence and self-esteem.  Play also paves the way for more family bonding time. Playing with your children can also decrease your stress levels, dear parents!  It helps you appreciate your children as they are. When you spend time with your children, either by reading books, helping them build their Lego structures or accompanying them in their favorite play venues, they feel loved and important. When you join them in their play, they know they are in good hands and they feel more special and secure. 

2. It helps children regulate their emotions and builds nurturing relationships

Children’s awareness and social cognition increases as they engage in play with peers. They learn how to share, cooperate, be sociable, negotiate, be assertive, and accept defeat and celebrate victories.  These are the social skills which children will eventually use when they become adults.  Isolation because of too much time playing with gadgets are seen in some kids of this generation and encouraging social play can help address that. 

3. It facilitates growth in children’s developmental skills

 

Play stimulates the neural connections in your child’s brain which helps in the development of gross motor, fine motor, sensory processing and social skills.  Gross motor skills are those which require big muscle groups like running, jumping, crawling and kneeling.  Fine motor skills pertain to using the muscles of the hand like when children draw, paint, squeeze a small ball, or pick up small toys. Sensory processing refers to the ability of the sensory systems to organize and make meaning of the different sensations from the environment and their bodies.  Children’s sensory processing needs may be addressed by letting them jump, do exercises, play with water, mold clay, explore swings, enjoy slides, climb monkey bars, etc. during playtime.  It is with the of help of sensory experiences that they can feel their own bodies and be more aware of how to interact best with their environment. Nature trips like going to parks, forests, mountains and beaches are ways to stimulate their sensory systems too.  Varying and exploring sensory experiences can go a long way.

4. It is how they learn to follow rules, organize themselves, solve problems, plan, make decisions, develop reasoning and abstract thinking

These skills are collectively known as executive functions, (or higher order thinking skills) which can be found on the pre-frontal cortex of the brain.  Executive functions regulate and control the cognitive aspect of behaviors which is important in selecting and planning for chosen actions and goals. Play is one of the environmental stimulations that a child needs in order to improve executive functions, skills which they will use when they are in different situations and would need to deal with possible challenges, like participating in classroom and community activities. 

5. Play improves resilience and the overall well-being of your child. Or just simply put, it makes your child happy!

Play can make children realize that they can have mistakes and they are able to bounce back after failures.  Play can raise awareness that they are not perfect and that is still fine.  At times, adults have the tendency to fill their free time with more structured and hectic schedules because they “need to keep up” and strive for excellence and perfection. Let us remember that they are kids, and it is an essential time for them to learn more from experience, be more free, to grow at their own pace and to discover what their interests, strengths and capabilities are.

Balance is key.  We have to ensure that there are enough opportunities for play.  Here’s to bringing more FUN and HAPPY times with our kids (and ourselves as well).  LET'S PLAY!

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