Kids need to play (now more than ever)

When the pandemic started, Katia Raspa felt stuck. So in July, the childcare educator and her husband “loaded” their daughters into their camper Airstream and they went on a journey across the country. The Maryland couple’s mission was to give eight-year-old Imogene and six-year-old Caroline the opportunity to play.

“People forget that children have to play,” says Raspa. “Play helps them learn very basic skills such as creativity, flexibility and collaboration.”

Knowing that anyone trying to tell you that the game is junk is wrong. Instead, it is an important activity that humans as well as many other animal species have developed to promote the learning of new skills and prepare for adulthood. In fact, the game helps to strengthen the blood and friendship ties, just as it helps children to become better communicators. Play can even improve mental well-being, especially when we laugh, as laughter induces the release of feel-good endorphins. Finally, it can help children interact better with others and be more accessible friends.

But it is difficult for children to play if they have to stay almost two meters away and may no longer have the luxury of having school time. However, experts argue that play is crucial right now as children face the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Play helps children get an idea of ​​the world,” explains Roberta Golinkoff, a professor of infant education at the University of Delaware. “It allows you to practice different life scenarios and deal with complex emotional states.”

And play is not only good for your children – it can also make your life as a parent easier.

Play with animals

To understand how important play can be for children as they prepare to face adulthood, researchers take a break to observe the world of animals.

Previously, experts believed that the game had a single purpose. Some believed that play helped animals to train as predators, as when cheetahs play wrestling. Others speculated that it might also improve cognition, promote flexibility, or promote motor function. (For example, a young bouncing giraffe also exercises its ability to escape predators.) According to Isabel Behncke Izquierdo, a primatologist and ethnologist studying animal behavior, play has many functions, including those listed below, but also others.

“It’s useful to imagine the game as a wild card,” says Behncke Izquierdo. “It can help an animal adapt, but it always takes different forms.” How animals play – and what they use to play – changes based on species, environment and many other variables. For example, some birds have been filmed with the roofs as slides, a kind of play that can sharpen their reflexes. Bonobo adults, on the other hand, run and laugh with their young, strengthen bonds and teach them social skills. Cats and domestic dogs engage in predatory games that reflect the way their ancestors hunted.

The game also provides similar tools to humans – the only difference is that we play differently. “You can dance with friends, and that kind of activity has a binding function.” “You can draw, pun or joke, and it can have creative functions.” The fact that it is fun, explains the scholar, pressures humans as well as other animals to develop these skills constantly and over time.

Play can begin in childhood as a developmental tool to prepare animals for adulthood, but so often continues well beyond that point. Adult dogs hunt and bite each other; horses doctors catch. In this way, the game continues to build and maintain social bonds through the lives of many animals, explains Behncke Izquierdo.

Play with children

Since many of the play dates are eliminated or restricted, and after-school activities are canceled due to the pandemic, it is important for parents to find ways to get their children to play, whether they are alone, with parents or siblings or with trusted friends. It does not mean much. . In this way, children can continue to develop their complex motor skills by making puzzles or crafts, they can improve their intellectual and cognitive skills with some stimulating board games or improve their critical thinking with activities like a treasure hunt.

Creative play can also improve mental well-being, especially as children face pandemic-related anxiety and fear. Golinkoff states that negotiation, communication and language skills acquired through play are crucial to any child’s socio-emotional development. “Often, these games include representations of scenarios from adulthood or the world at large, within safe spaces that make it easier to deal with the problems yourself,” says the scholar.

And play can also be a way to alleviate parents’ worries about their children being left behind due to the difficulties of distance learning. For Raspa, the game created a whole new world of knowledge, dictated by letting their daughters’ curiosity control their learning, which kept the girls busy while having fun.

“We usually spend about an hour a day reading or doing more complex math operations,” says Raspa. “The rest of the time is set aside for the game.” But play is often also a learning opportunity. For example, for her last stop, the whole family camped near a freshwater pond, which allowed the girls to discover a new habitat to explore. “We can use these little discoveries to do more in-depth research and research,” he explains.

Golinkoff also recommends a form of guided play where parents act as helpers rather than teachers. “Kids are curious about everything,” he says. “If we follow the children’s instructions, we will discover what they want to learn.” For example, a little exploration of the home garden to draw or photograph insects and plants can encourage your child to ask questions, inspire them to do more research and get the whole family closer.


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