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Playtime Is the Best Brain-Building Gift You Can Give Your Child
  • How much time does your child spend having fun playing? In a clinical report entitled “The Power of Play,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is emphasizing the important role of play in a child's development. 

    “Play is brain building, a central part of healthy child development, a key to executive function skills, and a buffer against the negative impacts of stress. Furthermore, play builds the bond between parent and child,” says the AAP news release  on the report.

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    The benefits of play

    Play builds skills in many areas that will benefit your child until later on in life including emotional, language, and cognitive skills, explains pediatrician Dr. Michael Yogman, the lead author of the AAP report. When children play, they learn about the world around them and interact with family and peers. 

    Dr. Yogman says, “The benefits of play cannot really be overstated in terms of mitigating stress, improving academic skills and helping to build the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience.”

    The report mentioned a study that involved 3- to 4-year-olds. They were anxious about entering preschool, but they were relieved of their stress when they were allowed to play with other kids and their teacher. Students also showed less disruptive behavior when they had regular one-on-one play with a teacher over the course of the year.

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    Play is being hijacked by screens

    The report puts a spotlight on play because children are getting less and less of it. The report mentions how school days are so packed with hours of lessons and after-school activities, leaving children little free time for themselves. In the digital age, play is also taking a backseat to screens like tablets, phones, and television. 

    “Media use such as television, video games, smartphone and tablet apps are increasingly distracting children from play. It's concerning when immersion in electronic media takes away time for real play, either outdoors or indoors," said pediatrician Dr. Jeffrey Hutchinson, a co-author of the report.

    Though there are educational apps that will help a child learn and keep him entertained, screens are still a poor substitute to play, says the AAP. “It is important for parents to understand that media use often does not support their goals of encouraging curiosity and learning for their children,” the report reads. 

    Gadget use “encourages passivity” and can stifle active learning, according to the AAP. “Real learning happens better in person-to-person exchanges, rather than machine-to-person interactions.”

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    What is play exactly

    Play is “an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery. Play is voluntary and often has no extrinsic goals; it is fun and often spontaneous,” describes the AAP report. “Play often creates an imaginative private reality, contains elements of make believe, and is nonliteral.”

    Play needs to remain an essential part of a child’s day, says the AAP. Even to a child who already attends school, play must still be a part of the routine or even incorporated into lessons. “We suggest that learning is better fueled by facilitating the child’s intrinsic motivation through play rather than extrinsic motivations, such as test scores,” adds the report. 

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    Self-directed play

     It also called independent play where a child plays on his own however he wants to do so. Says the AAP, “Self-directed play, or free play, is crucial to children’s exploration of the world and understanding of their preferences and interests.” (Learn how you can encourage independent play in your child here.)

    Guided play

     With guided play, an adult is present. You play games like “Simon Says” or take him to a children’s museum for a day of fun.

    Explains the AAP, “Guided play retains the child agency, such that the child initiates the play, but it occurs either in a setting that an adult carefully constructs with a learning goal in mind or in an environment where adults supplement the child-led exploration with questions or comments that subtly guide the child toward a goal.” 

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    Types of play

    Object play

    Here a child explores an object and learns about its properties (if it makes sounds, how it tastes like, etc.). This could be a toy like blocks or play food or even simple household items like plastic cups.

    Physical and locomotor play

    This encompasses simple hand games like “Nanay Tatay,” free play games small school children play at recess and rough-and-tumble play siblings might engage in at home.

    Outdoor play

    Playing outside encourages the child to play in a way where all the senses are engaged such as a child playing games with other kids at the playground during recess.

    Social or pretend play (alone or with others)

    This is where “Kunwari ikaw yung…tapos ako yung…” type of play comes in. Pretend play is when children “experiment with different social roles” through play. Young children pretend to cook and run a restaurant, for example, or play house and be the dad taking care of his baby. 

    Now, think up a game and go play with your kiddo!


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