Parents often try to make every experience educational for their children. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting your child to succeed academically, one of the best things you can do is just let them play.
Recreation is so vital to development that play is a child’s right, according to the United Nations. Spend that playtime with your kids and both of you can reap the rewards.
Benefits for Kids
Kids learn from play no matter who they’re with, but being with parents brings with it some unique benefits:
1. Improves Academic Success
Studies have associated physical activity with getting good grades in school. Scientists aren’t sure why this happens, just that it does. Getting exercise helps the elderly stay mentally alert. Perhaps the same is true for children.
Whatever the case, taking time to play with your kids may be just as important to their academic success as helping them with homework.
2. Gives Safe Space to Practice Soft Skills
Your kids watch everything you do. They will see how you handle winning and losing and learn what good sportsmanship looks like. When you hand over the ball, they see how easily you share.
Play is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate soft skills in an unintentional way. As your kids see you show empathy and follow directions, they will start to incorporate that into their play. Try not to draw attention to learning skills. This should be a natural process.
3. Models an Active Lifestyle
When you take the time to play with your children, you show them that moving is fun. Kick a ball outside, play catch, blow bubbles, color with sidewalk chalk, and have a tickle fight. No matter what activity you choose, kids see that you value movement, and they will naturally come to desire that movement too.
Just remember that there are more ways to play than physical activity. Too much can lead to overexertion and accidents. Kids like a wide variety of activities and will probably get burnt out if you only play with them one way. Change it up with some quiet-time activities like reading aloud, playing cards, or putting together a puzzle.
4. Builds Communication Skills
Children playing independently do not get a chance to build communication skills as much as when they play with others. Why not use the time they are home to reinforce these essential skills? Tell stories with your kids and encourage them to ask questions or work together to create rules for a new game.
Your kids can learn how to put sentences and ideas together through play, building their good communication “muscles” in the process. Activities that involve problem-solving and teamwork are very effective for language building.
5. Strengthens Parent-Child Bonds
All kids need and crave attention. Play is one of the few things you can do with them that fills that desire. If you take the time to give them your undivided attention and let them know how much you enjoy spending time with them, they will feel validated and cared for.
You can also learn a lot about your children when you play with them. Kids often say things during play that they usually wouldn’t.
The bonds you build with your kiddos now will last into the future. You’re reinforcing the idea that you are available and care about their well-being.
Play Is Good for Parents Too
Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from playtime. The strong parent-child bonds that develop are fulfilling for parents and kids. As adults, we often forget how to let go of everything else on our minds and just let loose. We live in a world with rules and structure. Play allows us to forget about the rest of the world for a while and have fun. You and your kids will both get a much-needed and completely natural mood boost.
Remember What Play Is
Having fun with your kids is a great way to help them develop, but don’t lose sight of what play is. It needs to be fun! If you take charge of each playtime and make it a learning experience, it isn’t really play anymore. Or, if you act like playtime is something you are obligated to do, it isn’t serving its purpose.
Instead, give your kiddos your full attention when you’re with them and do it by choice. Your time spent together will be much more valuable.
Ways to Play
There’s a nearly unlimited number of ways to play. Your kids will probably have ideas of their own, but if you get stuck, here are some things you can try:
- Reading a book.
- Playing a sport.
- Blowing bubbles.
- Going on a nature walk.
- Having a scavenger hunt.
- Building a blanket fort.
- Setting up a family game night.
- Singing together karaoke-style.
- Going to a playground.
It’s Not Always Your Responsibility
Parents today feel an enormous amount of outside pressure to entertain their children 24/7. That isn’t possible and will lead to burnout. Moms especially are “expected” to ensure their kids are happy and busy all the time.
Do yourself and your children a favor. Let them play on their own sometimes. And let them be bored from time to time, too! Boredom helps kids be more creative, which they can channel into their next play session with you.