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Play: The importance, the challenges, and adult how-to’s

A common them in parents communication with their kids, particularly during the summer time, is “go play!”. This phrase packs a lot, in a tiny package. A signal to kids to be free and creative, while also giving parents a break from a directed activity. But what really is play? And why is it important? Or perhaps the question should state-why do we stop playing?

“Play? What’s the point?”

When we have an understanding of the purpose of play, as parents, caregivers and educators, we can construct environments, including personal attitudes, towards fostering a playful setting. Play lays the foundation for exploration devising problem solving techniques, self-regulation in making adjustments to failures, and promotes novel-or unexpected- learning through trial and error. Play allow us to incorporate our experience-observed and those learning-into practice. Play is like multiple, tiny experiments, where we ‘test’ our thinking in a real, tangible way. Expansion of play comes in from learning settings, were we take that information to ‘test’ through play.

“Play is hard!”

Through adult lenses, the concept of play may seem like a waste of time- in a world where we have access to so much information- it is tempting to want to share all this knowledge with our kids. Also, as a society we perceive we have little time to waste on fruitless activities- that do not directly link to goal orientated success. As adults our ‘free time’ may consist of unplugging from our career driven selves- yet does little to promote our playful spirit. Perhaps this contributes to the difficulty we have in engaging, encouraging, or understand the powerful benefits of play. Yet through play, we embrace aspects of uncertainty, emotional regulation, creativity, failures and internalized absorption of understanding for the world around us. Plus it can be a lot of fun!

“But how do I do it?”

Below is a quick reference of how we, as parents and caregivers can cultivate play- for kids as well as for ourselves.

· Lose the agenda. Play is not limited to time or an ending point. Allow yourself to be in the moment guided by your intuition-not your mind.

· Get dirty. While this can be taken literally, it is intended to be a reminder to let down your guard and let the activity take you-within appropriate boundaries for your family dynamics.

· Don’t be afraid to fail. From failure comes authentic learning. Lose the attitude of achieving and explore creative alternatives.

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