Give Children Time to Play!

By: Olga Zavgorodnya

Dr. Peter Gray, a researcher in bio-psychology, Professor at Boston College, and author of Free to Learn and Psychology, explains that “Most problems in life cannot be solved with formulae or memorized answers of the type learnt in school. They require the judgement, wisdom and creative ability that come from life experiences. For children, those experiences are embedded in play”.

The general consensus is that within the last few decades, children have less and less time to play. Whether the cause is parents who overbook their children with extracurricular activities or do not allow time for play because they believe there is no room for it, many children are left with too few interests in life. For many children, technology has stripped them of the desire and ability to go outside and play. They have become excessive bored.

What a tragedy this is. The severe repercussions that result from not having enough play as a child are manifold. As Dr. Gray explains, creativity and critical thinking is learned through play, not through academic settings. Those who did not get enough time to play report a decreased ability to navigate or feel comfortable in social settings—they have very little experience or confidence around others. Others report difficulty with interpersonal relationships, especially those related to courtship.

Many species in the animal kingdom—especially mammals—learn life skills through observation and play. They learn how to make tools and how to live within their established social structure. Predators tend to play more than prey because they have more skills to learn such as hunting – they cannot survive if they merely rely on instincts.

Dr. Gray reports a distressing and dramatic correlation: “Children’s opportunities to play has been accompanied by an equally dramatic increase in childhood mental disorders”. Having academic or “book” knowledge is not enough to be a happy and fulfilled person. Books cannot replace the experiences a child has while playing with others. Invaluable lesson – such as learning to share, learning how to empathize, play fighting (which teaches self-control and restraint)—are only available through engagement with others, which happens primarily during play. Considering that human beings are social creatures, one might think that it is an essential skill that needs to be acquired.

An important factor to remember is that through play, children learn what they like, what their passions are, what they are good at. Children need to be given free time to explore and discover those things. Children must be given the opportunity to critically think on their own, to figure out their problems on their own, to make mistakes– and learn from them!

Put away the video games and turn off the TV. Your child will balk at first and likely complain, but sooner than later, he or she will begin playing—the natural activity that helps them learn and grow more than any classroom or structured activity.

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