The Power of Playtime

As a parent, it’s fascinating to witness the power of playtime in action. My eldest son used to spend hours in the garage setting up elaborate “traps” using toys and action figures, constructing ever more brazen and intricate machines with his now-useful older sibling. Through play, children can explore their creativity and imagination, all while developing important skills and problem-solving abilities. This is the power of playtime.

Outside with the neighborhood kids or inside with activities that encouraged their imagination, creativity, and sense of fun and adventure, my sons played in other ways as well. Some of the most precious moments of their childhood were captured during those enchanted times of play.

My sons spent a lot of time playing as kids, but it seemed pointless and unproductive. I’m not sure that, as a young mother, I fully appreciated the significance of this seemingly innocuous activity to my sons’ growth and development. I saw it as nothing more than a fun way for them to spend time together while stimulating their minds and bodies. Not only did it bring the boys closer together, it also helped strengthen their bond as brothers.

But now, there is a scientific case for why play should constitute a substantial portion of a child’s formative years. The value of play has evolved beyond its former stigma as a meaningless pastime for bored kids to while away the hours before dinner. Instead, recent research suggests that play may be crucial for kids’ mental growth. They believe that play is critical to the development of a brain that is capable of complex thought, skill, and flexibility.

Important life abilities like socialization, problem solving, negotiation, creativity, self-regulation, and meta-cognition are all linked to play. Unfortunately, many children in today’s society spend the four or five hours a day they have for recreation staring at a screen of some kind.

Other research has shown that, in contrast to playtime, time spent in front of the TV or using other screens actually hinders cognitive development and limits the growth of vital neural connections in the developing brain. Inevitably, this has consequences for cognitive growth and social, emotional, and even physical maturation.

Even though it’s obvious that kids can’t learn as well when they spend too much time in front of screens, we live in an age where it’s socially acceptable and even encouraged. Children are drawn to screens for extended periods of time by a variety of media, including cartoons, video games, movies, and sitcoms. Thus, play is sacrificed for more time in front of screens, which has led to a decline in reading, physical exercise, and mental challenges—all of which are crucial to a good, healthy, and vibrant childhood.

Parents can do a lot to make sure play doesn’t take a back seat in their children’s schedules, especially as neuroscientists highlight the importance of play and its role in childhood and “play scholars” (as they are often called) question what gets lost when kids do not engage in enough playtime. Although it may seem frivolous and pointless, adults should not dismiss playtime for children.

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