By Dr. Frances Berres
Play. So much is encompassed in that one word: making hand
puppets or building forts, shooting marbles or hoops, playing
a serious game of chess or a giggly game of Boggle, pretending
to be a monster or a princess. It's all play -- and it's all
Children learn so much from
play. It teaches socialization skills such as sharing, taking
turns, self-discipline. Waiting to take a turn teaches delayed
gratification. Playing with a group teaches teamwork. Cooperating
during play is the first step in making friends.
Games also involve understanding
rules and being willing to follow them. It also involves sportsmanship.
Being a "good sport" is part of playing Candyland as much as
it is in high school basketball -- and in the workplace.
But play isn't always about
rules, or socialization. Playing alone and imaginative play
are just as important as a game of checkers. Solitary play
and creative play build up different strengths.
Although play is often called
the work of children, it shouldn't be hard work. Parents need
to encourage play by valuing it, facilitating play times,
and joining in some of it. But play is not a programmed activity
like piano lessons or soccer or dance class. Too much programming
The approach parents take is
crucial. Take a game of Chutes N Ladders or Monopoly: are
you out to trounce your child or are you out to enjoy her
company? You're the role model. The mind set you bring to
the game board will set the tone for the game as well as teach
a child how to approach games for a lifetime. Win at all costs
and gloat about it -- or laugh and tease lightheartedly. Also,
know when to play by the rules -- and when to ignore them
and come up with new ways to play -- both are important.
Physical games were always
important in childhood but now with so many kids becoming
TV addicts, couch potatoes, and computer obsessives, getting
up and playing games that expend energy is essential. The
incidence of childhood obesity and diabetes is increasing
at an alarmingly fast rate. What can you do? How about hopscotch?
Or jump rope? Or hide and seek?
If you are concerned about
play taking away from learning time, find ways to incorporate
the two rather than choosing between them. Children can learn
numbers and letters and vocabulary using dull, rote methods
or they can learn (probably quicker) with fun games.
Through play, children learn
both about the world they live in and to fantasize about other
worlds. Children play Mommy and Daddy to learn about what
it means to be grown-up. Mimicking the adult world around
them helps them to process reality. They pretend at being
professionals -- not just the always-fascinating fireman and
policeman but they take on the roles of the adults they know
-- nurse, teacher, plumber, postman.
And play can be of the most
fanciful kind. Imaginary worlds and creatures. Einstein himself
said that imagination is more important than knowledge.
When children go through a
trauma, they often re-enact it over and over. This play (even
of shootings, accidents) helps a child to absorb and process
what has happened. It may often seem disrespectful but it
is how children deal with grief. Children not only learn through
play, they heal through play.
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