Playtime is as Important as Academics

Mark and I got to go play with bunches of new toys at the Las Vegas Toy Show.   It is fun to see the old classics and the new things coming out.   It was just a great three days playing – we all need that.  We can get too busy at times.  We learn a lot during playtime and playing relieves stress.  Many poor health conditions are directly related to high levels of stress.  A quote from Caroline Petvin's article, "Play is nature's answer to stress."  Check out her fantastic article here. 

Kids are very busy these days and then the parents are even busier.  We keep kids busy doing many good and wonderful things.  Being too busy with good things often distracts from the importance and the value of “playtime”.  

When kids play even with something as simple as a cardboard box, they are learning about the world around them and how to influence their environment.  This is as important as what they learn in school.  Playtime enables kids to express themselves and resolve issues.  They get to practice adult roles and gain confidence.   Check out this great article on the importance of playtime.  

Playtime is so important to the healthy development of children that the United Nations considers it a basic human right.  They have some great tips in this article

When I was a kid, I had a few toys, but not that many.  I lived for the outdoors and whatever we could find out there to PRETEND WITH, then I had my three foot tall doll that both my friend and I had, and some games.  I could turn carpet into an ocean that had to be carefully navigated.  I turned a pile of cut down trees into a fort, a tunnel of love, a boat ride, a castle, a mansion, a pirate adventure, and much more.  Sometimes we played by ourselves with only our imagination, other times we played with friends or siblings.  I loved climbing trees, it was one of my favorite activities and I would climb and sit in the trees and listen to the world around me – the sound of the birds.  To this day I can hear a certain bird and recognize it from my childhood days. 

When my oldest son and my daughter were born 25 and 23 years ago, the world was much different than it is today.  He would take a hair brush (turned it into a snorkel) and swim goggles and ‘snorkle’ across the kitchen floor. For him, anything could be made into an airplane.  My daughter would take any object and it somehow became a microphone.  They could go on and on creating games with each other and simple objects. 

Now my youngest children ages 9 and 11 are easily distracted by everything around them.  I never had to ask the kids to play like I do now.  In fact it is an assignment to go play to use their imaginations.  Like most children, they like to watch TV, play video games, search the internet and then as they get older… text.  

I call most activity today like video games ‘Reactionary Play’.  It puts us in a reactionary mode of thought.

The play I used to do I call ‘Intentional Play’.  You used your imagination and created, then reacted to that environment. 

Both can be beneficial, but we need more ‘Intentional Play’ time.  As kids create intentional play time, they are learning an important skill and that is to live with intention and create their life. 

Stuart Brown a psychiatrist has interviewed and studied many people over several decades.  His data suggests that a lack of opportunities for unstructured, imaginative play can keep children from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults. “Free play,” as scientists call it, is critical for becoming socially adept, coping with stress and building cognitive skills such as problem solving.

One of the reasons we love the classic toys like blocks is that it encourages creativity.  We saw a lot of classic toys coming back at the Toy Show. 

One great game we saw was about the outdoors and camping.  One great feature in that game was that the cards used in the game had four levels of questions for four different age groups so that all ages can play together – awesome opportunity where ages are challenged are able to interact together. 

Another game was about life on a farm – similar to Monopoly.  You earn money with your cattle.  The inventor of this game grew up on a farm.  Playtime learning about real life on a farm earning money. 

There were even more puppets and marionettes than I’ve seen before.  I love puppets – it really encourages imagination and storytelling.

Next time you need a gift for your child, think about something that will help them with creative and imaginative playtime – ‘intentional playtime’.  And give them an empty box occasionally to play with.  Don’t forget how important it is to play with your kids. Don’t keep them so busy with other activities that they can’t play.   They need that empty, unstructured, electronics-free time to learn about themselves and the world around them.   Get some real quality playtime in everyday.

If you need some more suggestions or have some good ideas that work for you, please post them below. Let’s keep the conversation going.  

Kally & Mark

Indigo Mountain:  Wellness, Toys, and Gifts

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