Playtime has countless benefits

Making time to play with your child, leading and guiding them to play more can make a positive difference in the life of your child. Building blocks is a great playtime activity in getting them to play on their own.

Playing more with your child and creating more favourable settings for playtime at home can make a huge positive difference in the overall well-being of your child.

Karin Gerber, an educational psychologist, practising in Stellenbosch, shares more about the valuable benefits of playtime and discloses how more and adequate playtime, has been proven to be hugely beneficial to the overall development of children.

Whereas adults may regard playtime as an extra curricular activity for children, it is, says Ms Gerber a much more crucial part of a child’s development.

She explains the importance of play: “Play is seen as the work of a child – it is the main channel through which children can process their daily experiences, conflicts, achievements, challenges and relationships with others.”

Furthermore, she points out, playtime also serves as a way of non-verbal communication in children. “Children do not possess the verbal abilities yet to express their experiences and will therefore “voice” it through the means of play.”

She reveals how incorporating more playtime into your child’s schedule has countless benefits ranging from fulfilling their emotional needs, stimulating brain function, enhancing creativity, developing problem-solving abilities and by doing so, make children feel more competent with a sense of empowerment after mastering problem-solving skills.

Playtime, proves to be especially valuable during the time of the pandemic, when playing can assist with relieving stress and feelings of anxiety in children, says Ms Gerber.

She further elaborates on just how playtime can address some of the difficult feelings children can experience. “Playing alleviates underlying psychological distress by providing an outlet for acting out various emotions during play; such as anger, frustration, excitement, sadness, jealousy, fear etc. in a way that is controlled by them.

“This act of being in control during play is also very important for a child’s psychological well-being as they can decide on the outcome, whereas in real life they are often not in control.”

In addition to all the above-mentioned emotional benefits, playing can be tremendously beneficial to children’s physical development. The physical activity that playing entails can release endorphins in children similar as to when adults exercise.

“Endorphins are important to combat anxiety and depression.”

In other areas of life playing also holds benefits. Ms Gerber adds that children who are exposed to more playtime will function better in social settings and they will perform better in school.

She says: “Children who spend more time playing are better adapted socially, are less prone to underperform at school, and are less likely to be diagnosed with conditions such as ADHD.”

For parents wishing to get their children to play more but are unsure about how to do so and where to start, Ms Gerber’s advice is simple. “The most crucial thing is to drastically limit screen time and allow children to experience boredom. It is then that their creativity kicks in to occupy themselves constructively.”

Another aspect about play which parents might be unsure of is whether children should be left to play on their own or with parental participation. Ms Gerber suggests that parents alternate between playing with their children and letting them play on their own and with friends.

Parental play, she says, can help to build a loving parent and child relationship, but, playing with their friends is important in the development of their social skills.

According to her, there aren’t many instructions or specific guidelines for playing with your child, the main point for parents to keep in mind when playing with their children, is to allow the child to take the lead.

Her guidance is for parents to allow the child to choose the game, to decide how it will be played and she strongly discourages any parental correction, interference or control during playtime. “This gives the child the sense that they are important, which is incredibly empowering,” she reveals.

Parents need not feel pressured or burdened by lengthy playtime sessions as she recommends only about 15-30 minutes of playtime a day.

She says both indoor and outdoor playtime are equally important with unique benefits and one should not be regarded as more important as the other.

Playtime at any age is crucial to children’s development but even more so in the stages of early childhood development (ECD). Maria Gertse, principal and ECD worker from Titus Community ECD Centre in Strand, is a strong advocate of the importance of the first 1000 days in a child’s life, and says playtime serves as an important stimulator of healthy growth and development during this stage of a child’s life.

Ms Gertse explains that for playtime to be fully beneficial at this stage an holistic approach needs to be followed.

She advises parents to determine a clear cut understanding of the correct stimulation needed for the child’s developmental phase and playing with them through facilitating these appropriate activities.

Another very important aspect of play on the ECD level is that of movement. “You need to create a stimulating environment so that the children can move, explore and discover new things and by doing this, develop all the different muscles in their bodies.”

To achieve this form of physical development, she encourages parents to consider playing on jungle gyms, parks, trampolines, swings and ball games, all on an age appropriate level. “Building blocks, challenging them to build towers is a good way to develop physical skills,” Ms Gertse adds.

There are negative consequences for children who are not exposed to play, says Ms Gerber.

Apart from being at risk for depression or anxiety disorders, such children, she discloses such children can display difficulties in social interactions and struggle with social set-ups.

“They may display inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour towards others. They may also present with aggression, oppositional behaviour, disregard for authority, poor concentration and attention, as well as academic challenges.”

Outdoor and indoor play each provides unique benefits and each aid in developing different skills in children, so parents should make provision for both forms of play to take place.