Does your child’s schedule make him feel like he’s always chasing after his own tail?
Well-meaning parents fill their child’s day with structured activities and tutorials, hoping these could be the keys to their child’s success. Child experts, however, say that parents may be forgetting a major part of success—play.
Gone are the days when after school, kids would run outside and play patintero or tumbang preso. Today, children’s time are mostly spent indoors.
In the study “An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play (2004),” by Dr. Rhonda Clements of Hoftstra University in the US, over 800 mothers were surveyed, and Dr. Clements found that children in the early 2000s, as compared to those of a generation ago, spend less time playing outdoors and participate in more indoor than outdoor play activities.
Although parents who joined the survey acknowledge the value of outdoor play, the study revealed the obstacles which prevent kids from playing outdoors include television, computers, and concerns about crime, safety and injury.
Work-at-home Filipino mom Coleen Imperial, mom of Yati, 9, and Yueh, 3, shares the same perspective.
“When I was a kid, my main goal in life was to look for the perfect powder soap to mix with gumamela flower in order to produce the biggest bubble and to keep the concoction a secret from my friends. My brother had a box under his bed full of stones which he really thought were precious gems. Kids today are busy with gadgets that include games with virtual pets or games which involve virtually killing an adversary.”
Dr. Ken Ginsberg, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of “Building Resiliency in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings,” also warns that play is under threat from other things we deem important, such as more schoolwork and homework, more lessons and adult-directed programs in order to stand the rigors of testing and competition.
In this context, free play is considered just for the soft-headed and is “anti-achievement.”
Having been a tutor of elementary students for many years, Coleen observes that kids today “have very little or almost no time to play on weekdays.” Play time would mean sitting in front of a digital screen to play computer games.
Game of marbles
This is in stark contrast to her generation’s experience 10-20 years ago, wherein they “look forward to playtime so they can beat their playmate in a game of marbles to bring home their opponent’s marble collection as a prize.”
In the documentary “Prescription for Play” produced by Alliance for Childhood and Kaboom.org, Dr. Marilyn Benoit, former President of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, explains that over-scheduling causes the brain to produce the stress hormone cortisol.
When the stress level remains high, the brain produces cortisol, which manifests as anxiety and burnout among children.
To complicate it further, the lack of opportunity for free play causes children to live sedentary and isolated lifestyles linked to depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation and fear of failure.
Dr. Benoit raises the red flag, saying that “social isolation of kids will pay a big price in the future” by producing a generation who are afraid to think out of the box, have weak bodies that are prone to illnesses, and have low emotional intelligence to deal with problems and challenges.
Ronualdo Dizer, dean of the College of Human Kinetics (CHK) of the University of the Philippines (UP), shares the sentiments of these two child experts. “The advent of video games has kept many children occupied indoors. As advocates of human kinetics, we believe these new games are detrimental to holistic development. They hamper physical, psychological and social development that can only be harnessed in natural environments of space and interactions among people. Because they don’t need real playmates, kids also miss out on natural concepts of fair play, cooperation, teamwork and leadership.”
Organized sports and other adult-led extra-curricular activities, normally considered play by most people, is not exactly the kind of play which experts are talking about.
United Kingdom-based organization Play England’s Charter for Children’s Play defines play as “What children and young people do when they follow their own idea and interests, in their own way, and for their own reasons.”
Free play is when kids get to play on their own, they have free time to do what they want to do, and can create their own fantasy world, choose their own friends and exercise their own bodies.
Physical and mental health
Playing outdoors help children grow academically, physically and emotionally.
According to Dizer, “Play is important in developing motor skills, motor ability, physical fitness and neuromuscular movement which contribute to overall physical and mental health.”
Active play like running, jumping, climbing and hanging on monkey bars stimulate the digestive system, enhance muscle growth and support the development of vital organs essential for normal physical growth.
Exploring the outdoors as a child looks for his own corner to create a fantasy world helps acquire the basic academic skill of investigating.
Playing with sand, mud and water enriches sensory experiences, promotes creativity and increases self-confidence when kids are able to make new things out of these natural materials.
Participating in outdoor games with other kids helps build resilience through risk taking and challenge, cooperation, empathy, conflict and problem solving.
Play can also be the solution to social justice, if only we bring the lessons it teaches us to adulthood.
When children play, kids of all abilities and backgrounds play together without prejudice because the focal point of the activity is not the differences of the participants, but the goal of every child when playing—to have fun.
The crucial role that play serves in childhood is protected by Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which articulates the right to play and informal recreation for all children and young people up to 18 years old.
The concern of parents about crime, safety and injury associated with outdoor play is valid. This is why child experts encourage adults to build safe places for kids to play. Parents can collaborate with private and public organizations in building a community play area that serves as a nurturing environment for kids.
There are laudable organizations that have already started this kind of project such as the UP CHK and Unilab Foundation. Dean Dizer shares that the two groups banded together to build playgrounds in order to promote holistic health.
He also believes “there is a need to emphasize the importance of designing a curriculum for physical development, especially in the grassroots level. Public-private partnerships are important to create a bigger environment for these concepts and programs to be realized.”
Like real life, play entails willingness to fail, to experience scraped elbows and knees, but the ability to get up after falling down, the courage to take chances, the skill to find solutions are the secrets to success that guarantees us of a confident generation that will lead us in the years to come.
Household items and budget-friendly materials you can use for knockout playtime: