Play matters. It’s how children learn about themselves and the world around them. Giving a child the opportunity, time, and space to play allows them to explore different interests and passions. Through play, children can develop important life skills that can help prepare them for experiences later in life.
What is Play?
Play is “any spontaneous or organized activity that provides enjoyment, entertainment, amusement or diversion.” Play includes:
- Having fun
- Being creative and spontaneous
- Creating original ideas and acting on them
- Engagement and concentration
Watch our Parent’s Guide to Playtime for fun tips for playing with your little one!
Structured and Unstructured Play
Structured play requires a child to follow directions or rules, and is guided by an adult. This could include board games, puzzles, and organized classes like dance or art, or team sports like soccer.
In unstructured play a child can do what interests them. That is what makes it so fun! Playing on the jungle gym, playing dress up, and exploring the outdoors are all examples of unstructured play. But the possibilities are endless. As long as there aren’t guidelines on how to play, it is unstructured play.
Both structured and unstructured play are important for children and balance is key.
Skills Developed Through Play
- Knowing what to do when no one is directing you
- Problem solving
- Creativity and imagination
- Interacting with others and negotiating
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Willingness to take risks and try new things
- Processing emotions
- Understanding social situations
- Discovering interests
- Building Confidence
How Much Playtime Does a Child Need?
Toddlers should spend at least one hour a day in free, unstructured play, and at least thirty minutes engaged in active, adult led play. Older children need even more time to play each day. Think of play as a prescription from a doctor. It’s something they need every day.
Is Screen Time Considered Play?
Screen time isn’t just watching TV. Screens includes tablets, computers, phones, and any other digital device or game. Although there are some educational games to “play” on screens, there are certain benefits from active play that you cannot get from screen time.
Children under 12 months should not use screens. Infants do not learn from screens and benefit from human interaction instead.
Is your child is using a screen? If so, try to make it a social activity. Sit with them, ask questions, and play turn-taking games on the device.
Is it Okay to Give My Child a Screen?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting children’s screen time to 1-2 hours per day. This can be more difficult than it sounds, especially when there are so many digital devices to monitor, not to mention screens are a large part of adults’ lives too!
Here are practical tips to decrease screen time, so your child spends more time playing, exploring, adventuring, and challenging themselves.
- Keep screens out of your child’s bedroom.
- Set a good example by decreasing your use of screens in front of your children.
- Limit “background media” or time when digital devices are on in the background.
- Set a time limit, or even use a timer, so your child knows exactly when their time is up. This helps you monitor exactly how much time your child is spending with screens.
- Set family rules for screens such as, only adults are allowed to turn on the TV, computer or devices can only be used after chores are done.
- Promote active play! Say yes to playing outdoors, playing with friends, playing make believe, playing dress up. When kids ask to watch or use a screen, redirect them toward an active and engaging activity.
- Brainstorm a list of activities to do in place of when the kids have screens. While waiting at the doctor’s office bring coloring books for entertainment and at home you can play board games as a family instead of watching a movie.
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