"Play is central to childhood development, nearly as important as food and sleep". During play, children gain emotional and mental mastery and lay the groundwork for creative thinking. It promotes cognitive development and leads to discovery, reasoning, manipulative skills, and improves problem solving. "Play is a vital activity that helps the brains of young animals develop". While playing, children learn many of the skills that they will need as adults.
Another benefit of play is that it promotes physical fitness and health. "Sedentary lifestyles and junk food, coupled with reduction of physical education is resulting in a nation of short-winded kids with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels and declining strength and heart lung endurance."
A recent study in Wales shows that just just letting your child play outside or at the playground may be better exercise then organized sports. Children who naturally play, display quick bursts of energy when chasing a friend, which is more beneficial to heart health and weight control then moderate sustained exercise. Children who alternate intense intervals with easier ones become more fit, faster. In a study done by Julien Baker, Phd, it was found that 6 short sprints of up to 30 seconds each, done three times a week, can have the same cardio benefits and calorie burning powers as five 45-minute sessions of more traditional exercise.
With this in mind, the benefits of recess and physical education are clear. However, there are many schools banning games such as "tag", labeling them as too dangerous. Dodge ball has been watered down and "chase" games are eliminated. "The bans were passed in the name of safety, but some child's health advocates say limiting exercise and free play can inhibit a child's development." Educators worry about "kids running into each other and getting hurt". Critics of the bans say playing freely helps kids learn to negotiate rules and resolve disputes. "They learn to change and to problem-solve." Playground restrictions are seen as harmful. It is essential that children have time for play.
Parents, look at your child's schedule. Are they in team sports every day of the week? Do they get to play outside in the neighborhood? Do they ever get to the playground? Is there time to run free in a field? Do you have memories of playing "Red Light, Green Light", freeze tag, jump rope, and many other childhood favorites? Your child needs this too.
If you would like to read some excellent Child Development books to explore this subject further, stop in your local library in Vineland or Millville. There is also a great selection at Bogart's Books in Millville, a used book store that gives credit for books brought in to exchange.