Play is a key element of children’s learning and development. It is what they do naturally without adult input. Play provides opportunities for learning and development and also provides an opportunity to experience fun and joy.
Children need the opportunity to play to understand the world around them. Prior to the pandemic, activities such as organized sports, video game playing, television viewing, and parents’ safety concerns affected how much open-ended play children engaged in.
So how can parents help their kids avoid play deprivation—a condition that can lead to depression and anxiety—in a world that increasingly values productivity over unfettered free time? Surprisingly, one of the best things we can do is to let our kids play—outdoors, indoors, or even online—without us in the mix.
Tips for bringing playback
- Go outside. Be very intentional in adding outdoor time back into children’s days. This can be at local parks, taking walks, or going to a local school playground. Make sure there is time for joy and wonder and child-initiated play.
- Break the screen cycle. Television and video games helped many children (and adults) pass the time at home. Consider what the family rules and routines pre-pandemic were, and think about how you will go forward as a family. You can model this by putting your own phone away, reducing your own screen time, and inviting your child to read a book, take a walk, or help make dinner.
- Provide opportunities for open-ended play. Children love to run, jump, skip, kick a ball, or just lie in the grass. Indoors, provide children with art supplies, toys, and books that they can engage with independently. Give them space to engage their imaginations.
- Add family playtime into your routine. Build a fort with a blanket. Play a board game. Relax and laugh together. Play is healing and supports resilience.
- Add play to your own life. Adding play back into all of our lives may reduce anxiety, depression, and stress and add to our abilities to re-engage in friendships and social activities, as well as to have fun again after a seemingly endless year. Play may bring all of us renewal and joy.