Childhood memories should be full of kids playing ball, riding bikes, and endless summer days. When I was a kid, you weren't living if you didn't have skinned knees and a sunburned nose.
Then again I was the only girl out of three kids, which meant I had to be tough. Also, parents didn't think much about sun exposure back then. Nor did they give a second thought about letting us run around the neighborhood until dusk on the weekends and all summer long. Everyone knew whose kids belonged to whom and they were sure to report if we did something we shouldn't. We had a lot of freedom. Maybe too much, but that's debatable. The lessons I learned and the memories I made proved good resources in life.
We all know kids don't spend as much time outside as in previous generations and everyone is pretty sure that's because of technology. I imagine all my friends and I would have been in the house playing video games too if the option were available. We did have Pong, but who could endure that for long? Nonetheless, video games aren't the sole reason that kids playing outside isn't a regular thing anymore.
Kids Playing Outside
A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cites some factors that reduce the time that kids get to play at all. Our hectic lifestyles and the changes in our family structure leave less time for kids playing. Kids need supervision, after all. They can't go unattended like we used to; parents run the risk of being considered negligent if they let their kids go to the park without an adult, or wander around the neighborhood. Often, there isn't a family member at home to take care of kids who aren't in school.
Consequently, kids spend time in structured after-school programs that may be an extension of the school day. Parents want to give their children a fighting chance to compete in college and beyond. So it makes sense to sign them up for a program. Also, schools are pressured to produce accomplished students who are well-versed in the fundamentals, reading, and writing. That's great, but there's the cost of losing out on physical education classes, creative time, and recess.
Unsupervised playtime may become a thing of the past if the trends continue. However, merely playing without any structure is an essential developmental activity for kids. Deciding how they will spend their time is one of the ways that kids exercise their creativity and establish their sense of self. Having that time to themselves is even more critical in our fast-paced world. This is because kids playing helps them to decompress and think about their day.
Benefits Of Kids Playing Outside
According to pediatrician Claire McCarthy, kids playing outside is instrumental in developing their executive function, which is the ability to make decisions and practice self-control. Decision making has everything to do with how they will function in the world as an adult.
The thought of allowing our kids to take risks may be contrary to our idea of good parenting. However, risk-taking is one of the ways kids build self-confidence, and it gives them an opportunity to learn from their failures. Climbing trees, navigating the neighborhood, and even reaching out to make new friends are all risky business that prepares kids for life.
Sunburn is undoubtedly a concern with kids playing outside, but there are plenty of products made specifically for their sensitive skin. The benefits of being outside in the fresh air and sunshine would indicate that it's a good idea to slather on some sunscreen and let the kids go out and play. They need vitamin D for their immune system, growing bones, and healthy sleep. Not to mention that exercise is as important for kids as it is for adults. Kids playing is how they exercise (and in the most kid-friendly way). Whether riding bikes, chasing each other in a game of tag, or skateboarding, kids playing is the best way to get their hearts pumping.
Another important consideration about kids playing outside is their connection to nature. Without having the experience of communing with nature by walking through the forest or picnicking by a stream, they may never come to understand how precious our natural resources are. This could be a detriment to the planet in the future. The concern is relevant enough that there are now "forest schools" that happen outside and instill in children a love of nature that will last a lifetime.
Kids Playing With Other Kids
Socialization is a far-reaching aspect of healthy childhood development. There are two types, primary and secondary. Primary socialization is how kids learn what's acceptable in society through observation. Much of this type of social learning is kids watching their parents and family members. Then there's the secondary category, and this happens when kids are out in the world.
Secondary socialization is how kids figure out situation appropriate ways to behave. Kids are ego-centric by nature. Their world expands as they develop social skills and much of this development occurs through kids playing with one another. In this way, play helps kids figure out how to get along with each other and how to make friends.
Kids Playing Sports
Getting outside and playing sports with their friends not only provides ample exercise, but it also helps kids learn lots of positive behaviors, not the least of which is teamwork. Working together, as we know, is a necessary skill in the adult world. Not to mention playing sports builds self-confidence and discipline. In addition, kids learn to trust each other and gain self-esteem for a job well done. On the flip side of the coin, kids playing sports offers them an opportunity to accept defeat and use failure as a learning tool.
Kids Playing Games Indoors
Sometimes kids have to stay indoors simply because the weather doesn't allow for playtime outside. It's okay. There are lots of ways kids playing inside is beneficial. I used to love to play "school," mostly because it meant that I was in charge and my brothers had to do things my way because I was the teacher. Though I was admittedly bossy, our time playing this way actually helped my brothers excel in school. I benefitted as well, learning to become a little more diplomatic.
Benefits Of kids Playing Indoor Games
Outside or indoors, there are lots of ways to play that will benefit your child's health, emotional growth, and well-being. Indoor games may not be as physical as outdoor activities, but that doesn't mean there aren't positive ways to play.
Kids playing pretend is an essential part of kids learning their place in the world. When they act out scenarios, it teaches them about emotions and increases their social skills. Playing pretend with other kids helps them learn empathy by "walking in someone else's shoes." They learn language skills when they emulate a make-believe character. And using their imagination improves their cognitive thinking ability.
You can help your child use their imagination by providing props and free time for them to explore their fantasy world. Clothes, hats, cooking utensils, desks, dolls, and old phones are all perfect items for a game of make-believe.
Not all time spent with technology is bad. In fact, video games provide lots of good stuff such as hand-eye coordination. They can also improve problem-solving skills. Like much of life though, an appropriate amount of time spent playing video games boils down to balance.
A recent Oxford University study indicates that kids who play an hour of video games each day are happier and more social than kids who don't play at all. Keep in mind, that's an hour a day, which presents an opportunity to teach kids moderation by limiting their time with technology.
Age Appropriate Video Games
The availability of technology makes it a bit more challenging to ensure that the games kids play are age appropriate. There's an "M" for mature on many game ratings for a reason. Those video games are meant for children 17 and over because of graphic violence, inappropriate language, and sexual content.
As a parent, you're the best judge of what is age appropriate for your child and of course, you are the one who has to enforce the rules. One way is to keep the game console in a common area, so you're privy to what they're playing. There's no need to put it in the kid's bedroom where they will be able to play at all hours without supervision. Getting to have the Xbox in their room could even be a reward for a teenager who shows constraint and responsibility.
Family Game Night
Spending time with kids playing as a with family may be one of those things that are fading into the past. That's unfortunate because bonding over a board game is a treasure that will last a lifetime. If there's one thing young children want to do, it's spending time with their parents. What could be better to them than having your full attention? Talk about a great way to build self-esteem! Board games are fun for everyone and they offer lots of other benefits too, such as hand-eye coordination, shape and color memory, learning how to count, and critical thinking. Scrabble was always one of my favorites and may be responsible for my love of words.
Kids Playing Games At All Ages
Studies indicate that children ages one through three years should spend about half an hour a day in supervised playtime and at least an hour playing on their own. Additionally, toddlers should be active pretty much all the time unless they're sleeping. Kids under two don't need screen time. There are lots of things to do, such as jumping, exploring the backyard, climbing up and down the stairs, and "helping" around the house. A couple of hours a day of kid-appropriate programming is fine once they're old enough.
Once they are close to going to preschool, it's all about imagination games. Kids ages four to five love make-believe. They also enjoy learning how to get dressed on their own. Dressing up in big people clothes is an especially fun imagination game at this age.
Once kids are ready to start school, their play changes a bit as well. At ages six through eight, they start getting logical and want to problem solve. They're stronger and more confident, thus ready for more risky activities such as playing a game of hide-and-seek, outside alone with their friends. They also have more dexterity and can exercise it by playing games like jacks, tying their shoes, and snapping their fingers. Drawing is a great way to exercise small motor movement and be creative at the same time.
By the time kids hit age nine, they're ready for more challenges. This is a great time to get them into sports and explore hobbies that may interest them throughout their lives. It's also the time when they're likely to start engaging more with technology, so it's good to already have developed a love of being outside.
Kids Playing: It's Their Job
Ultimately, playing is as important to children as any other part of their education. Kids playing is their job so that they can learn how to interact with others, develop critical thinking skills, get a healthy level of exercise, and develop a relationship with nature. In fact, lack of ample playtime causes anxiety and depression as kids become as stressed about the world as adults. They have plenty of time to get stressed out later. So why not let kids do what they were made to do, get out there and play.