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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

PLAY!: Smart and Vibrant Children

Aug 03, 2011 10:55AM ● By Cheryl Kaiser

According to the Play Matters Study: “Our children are playing less than any previous generation, and without more time for play, we will continue to see a decrease in creativity and imagination, problem-solving skills, the ability to assess risk, and resiliency. All of these help prepare children not only to learn more effectively in school but also for successful adulthood”. Researchers are finding that a child engaged in the joys of movement, creativity and friendship are more important than we realized and far from a waste of time.

Parents concerned about academic success might be assured by the findings of Dr. Adele Diamond, founder in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience who discovered that “What nourishes the human spirit, the whole person, it turns out, also nourishes our minds.” Her work illustrates that children’s facility in activities such as play and quiet times for reflection is a stronger predictor of academic success than even IQ. Dr. Diamond also finds “If children have more time to play they do better on academic outcome measures (tests) than (if they were to spend) more time preparing”. Essential to healthy brain development, children require adequate amounts of nutrition, hydration, free play and movement time.

Michael Meyerhoff, Ed.M.Ed.D author of The Power of Play states that free play actually helps children learn “It is clear that young children who explore, investigate, and experiment through play build strong foundations in every important area of development, including intelligence, language, social competence and emotional security.

Parents Role in Childs Play

Raising a child with a healthy balance of imaginative free play begins with the process of establishing a “home life rhythm” which is especially important for young children. Creating a home routine rich with natural sensory input and interactive play in which your child actively makes the world his own, serves the child far more than being an observer caught in the overbearing stimulus of electronics, media and commercial images with no allowance for a child’s input or response. A healthy, joyful rhythm includes regular times for helping in household tasks such as setting the table and preparing meals, eating meals and snacks at a consistent time sitting at the table, each day creating time for inside play, outside play, story times and rest. When it is time for play, be there to assist in creating safe but adventuresome play “scapes”. Be prepared to allow an untidy blanket fort in progress and the expressive active imaginative play that develops! In order to allow the benefits of free play, become a watchful presence. Often parents will find a chore to perform nearby, not directing the children’s play but helping when necessary.

Parents will know their job is well done when they sense the immediate positive affects of stress relief and mood improvement that their child experiences as it ripples through the family atmosphere. A smile on the face of a playing child reflects a multitude of processes going on in their body that can improve health. Play as a means of stress relief is “learned” and it may help children continue this healthy pattern in their future years, as the brain will naturally reinforce behaviors that make it healthy.

Healthy Play “Scapes”

Create a physical environment that fosters your child’s play by providing materials that encourage physical interaction with the environment. Also think play materials that are primarily natural and “open ended” as these enhance the possibility for endless uses for active imaginations and provide rich sensory input. For an inside play fort making consider setting up an area and providing several old sheets, a basket of cloths-pins, pool noodles, big pillows, rugs, various size baskets and some flash lights. These can be draped, clothes-pinned and arranged over and under basic structures: card table, big card board boxes, chairs or the couch. Create a dress up basket that could include various fabric textures and sizes and hats. On a smaller scale wooden blocks and sanded blocks cut from tree branches are timeless materials for all sorts of building. One study found that kids who played with blocks scored higher on language tests than kids who had no blocks. Outside play materials can include: Tree stumps, di ferent length boards, clothes line with a sheet over for a tent. Baskets of chalk, sticks, shells, pine cones, moss, smooth stones, pieces of pine bark, corks, small screw vice, pully, ropes, empty handle baskets. Sand boxes with digging tools. Wagons, wheelbarrows, planter gardens with soil, seedlings and gardening tools. Art materials for sensory interaction are hand moldable and include materials such as, mud, sand, clay, beeswax and bread dough.

Connie Manson BFA, M. Ed, early childhood educator and Sunbridge College trained Waldorf teacher, and has taught Waldorf kindergarten, nursery and parent child programs for many years. She has shared the magic of puppetry and music as a professional puppeteer and has provided many joy-filled workshops for parents and teachers of young children. Ms. Manson, is a faculty member at the Sarasota Waldorf School which is affiliated with the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, a world wide independent association of independent Waldorf Schools. She currently teaches the Marigold Nursery-Kindergarten Program offering a developmentally appropriate environment where play is nurtured, and childhood is protected.


The norm of free ranging child play from decades ago has been replaced today with the average child spending most of their waking hours constrained at a desk, sedentary during media time and/or scheduled in structured activities.
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