The Incredible Power of Play

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Play is the essence of childhood and it’s the means for children to develop and grow! The incredible power of play is a tool and a means to children development. It’s through play that kids learn. Kids delight in games, toys, and creative play while developing skills like fine and gross motor development. They learn to self-regulate. They learn to communicate, manage their emotions, and gain valuable sensory input. Play is powerful for kids! Here, I’m sharing great social media images that you can share online. (Just link to this page as your source!) I’m also talking about the incredible benefits of play in kids.

Here are 5 ways play builds child development in gross motor skills, fine motor skills, executive functioning, self-confidence, and sensory processing.

The Power of Play

Not long ago, I was asked by Radio Flyer to represent occupational therapy as an Expert Play Panelist. Such fun! As occupational therapists, we KNOW the power of play. We KNOW that kids need to move, climb, run, and experience all of their senses in order to grow and develop. Play is the means. Play is very simply, what kids do. It’s their job to play, and play is the way they develop skills they need throughout their life.

Play is powerful!

You can read the blog post over at Radio Flyer that describes the impact that play has on child development.

In that blog post, I discussed the power of play on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, self-confidence, sensory processing, and executive functioning skills. All of these areas (and more!) ared by play.

This play meme is perfect for sharing the immense power of play through getting dirty, playing inthe mud, jumping in puddles, and outdoor sensory play.

Play is a learning tool. Play-based learning is one way that children can learn valuable lessons through play, however it’s more than that. It’s through play that children learn about the world around them. They learn how things work, move, and interact through play. Movement-based learning offers kids an opportunity to learn through gross and fine motor activities, but while they are moving, they are learning how their body works, too. They develop motor skills at the same time.

Play meme: Play has an extremely powerful role in child development.

What’s Stopping Kids From Playing?

Ok, you might be thinking, “Right. Kids play. That’s nothing new.”

And you’re right. Play is so natural. Some of your earliest and best memories may be of play situations in your own childhood. Play happens instinctively. But the thing is that play is suffering in kids. If you’re in an educational setting or an occupational therapist, you might be nodding your head right now. Kids are different than they were in the past. And play is at the root, once again.

Play's powerful role in child development.

Play has Changed

Times change. We know this. Technology advances, knowledge progresses, and the world transforms. However, play being the root of child development, learning, and pediatric skill acquisition doesn’t change.

Here are a few ways that play has changed and how that may look in kids today:

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. Quote by Abraham Maslow on the power of play.

Kids spend less time outdoors- Do you remember playing outdoors for the entire day and coming home when the streetlights came on? Kids are spending more time indoors. After school hours aren’t spent outdoors or in free-play. They are spent indoors, at child care centers, or after-school programs. Sometimes, it’s the fact that kids need to complete their homework so they can dart off to sports practices or appointments. Other times, it’s not safe for children to play outside in the yard on their own. Kids miss out on the free running space, climbing, running, rolling, and motor development.

Kids need that outdoor play.

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. A great play quote by Mr. Rogers.

Kids are spending more time in the car, running back and forth to organized activities- There are wonderful benefits to spending time on a team or learning an instrument. However, for children now, they are a member of several sports teams, participating in various activities, clubs, and other organized activities. Sports teams sometimes have more than one practice or game per week. Kids are being run to and from sports practices, instrument lessons, clubs, appointments, and more. All of that time spent in the car limits free and creative play.

This isn’t’ to say that sports and clubs aren’t good for kids! It’s just a point of awareness that time spent in these organized tasks limits free play, outdoor experiences, and growth in learning through the senses and motor experiences.

Less recess time- Are you seeing this too? Kids in my district are limited in outdoor recess time by the weather. So, when it’s cold or raining, they don’t get to go outdoors to play. And that lack of monkey bar time at recess can be an issue with the afternoon learning. Students in the older grades don’t even get recess in our district. From grades 4-6, there is a limited time for recess. In fact, recess and lunch time is shared. So if children need extra time to eat, they miss out on recess. Not cool for our kids that are “big kids”!

Are you seeing less recess time at your schools?

Play sparks learning, communication, discovery, motor development, insight, and jowy. And that's just the beginning.

Kids are spending more time on technology- The screens are taking over! So often, a child has a phone or tablet screen in front of them rather than spending time playing games, playing with friends, they are playing digital games or watching videos. They are limiting themselves in motor and sensory experiences. Movement and creative play are impacted.

Don’t take this the wrong way: Technology is awesome! It’s a way of life. We are lucky to be alive during this time of knowledge and awareness granted by technological advancements. Kids can learn from devices…some of them know more about technology than their adults. The point is that being aware of time spent in a head-down position holding that phone limits interaction with the world around them. Awareness of this time is key.

There are more changes that we’ve been seeing in kids today. This is just a short list but one to be aware of as practitioners, parents, and teachers. As the adults in the room, we need to make the change that kids need.

We need to be vigilant in making play available to kids.

We need to guide children to play.

Because, the organized sports and scheduled activities are fun. It’s fun to play on a team with friends. It’s easy to fall into the day-to-day-life that daily schedules require. It’s fun and exciting to watch YouTube videos and play games with friends online.

It’s our job as parents, teachers, therapists…adults to see the impact these life changes are having on our kids.

Our kids deserve it!

There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Outdoor play is so essential for child development!
A fresh mindset about kids and how play impacts their development.
Kids are growing up in a world where play is restricted or limited. We can change that!
In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Quote by Mary Poppins
Play and therapy looks like just playing, but it's so much more! Play is learning, growint, building skills, gaining confidence, obtaining strategies.
Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. quote about kids.
Childhood is a journey, not a race.
Occupational therapy uses play in practice to build essential skills.
It seems that play is one of the most valuable tools for learning.
Play builds skills that kids need to build skills.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.