Play Is Not Just Play
Adults view play as something to fill time in ways that are pleasurable and enjoyable. For adults, play is not a “serious” activity but a way to distract us from the rigors of responsible living and work demands. For children play has a different function. Play is a child’s way of “working” and preparing the body for the skills it will need as an adult.
Play stimulates the brain to develop gross and fine motor skills and coordination among body parts. Play develops skills between the eyes and body parts. Play teaches a child the relationship between self and others, self and the environment, and self and others. Play uses language to direct behavior and carry out thought processes. Play stimulates and uses a child’s creativity and imagination. Play gives a child opportunities to interact with peers and develop social skills. Play is the setting for teamwork and collaboration. Group play leads to moral and ethical behavior so children learn to view events and situations from another’s point of view. Play is an opportunity for a child to refine his/her language skills so others understand his/her meaning.
How Much Play Does A Child Need To Develop Properly?
Before entering kindergarten, a child learns many school readiness skills. Young children need to learn to run, jump, skip, hop and gallop. They need to learn to cut with scissors, move small and large objects around in space and color within the lines. They need to learn to listen to sounds and discriminate between those sounds. They need to learn to discriminate among colors, shapes and sizes. They need practice in counting and writing on paper. They need to learn to take turns and settle disagreements without anger and resentment. For a child younger than 4 years, all of this usually takes their entire day. For a child between 4 and 6 years, this takes all but about 2 hours of their day.
Children in school need their recess times mid-morning, at lunchtime and mid-afternoon in addition to after school. It takes a lot of work for them to sit in one place and be quiet. Concentration is hard work, and learning to read, do math and write takes a lot of effort.
Imagine how often an adult wants to take a break on his/her given tasks. Adults get to choose most of their tasks, or at least the order in which they are done, but children don’t have that option. Their life is not under their control, and following others’ rules is also hard work.
How Much Play?
The simple answer is: a lot. Of course, the play can be interactive with adults in learning situations (language and communication is work but it can be done in fun settings). Just because you, the adult, see a child’s activity as fun and having little or no purpose, doesn’t mean it is. Let the children play – they will be adults soon enough and struggling for the same amount of play you have or don’t have in your own life.