November 27, 2017
Unstructured playtime is an important factor for boosting children’s creativity. As a parent, you may think that it is schoolwork that develops your child’s cognitive abilities. But it turns out that it’s during play that a child’s creativity, and with it cognition, grows and shines.
Unfortunately, unstructured outdoor activities have been on a decline, dropping by a whopping 50% between 1981 and 1997, with playtime of school-age children’s decreasing by 25% and older children’s by 45%. This is partly due to schools increasing study time and homework. In addition, youth sports, music, dance and other structured activities cut into the remaining free time, making kids too busy to play.
Another culprit contributing to playtime decrease is the growth of computer gaming and home entertainment. It’s estimated that over 32% of households own home-theater systems, which have become the hub of family activities, further diluting children’s incentive to entertain themselves.
Thankfully, there is a way to balance the impacts that stem from diminished playtime by organizing playdates. Below are six reasons why playdates are important in positively influencing your child’s development.
When children engage in dramatic play, they practice what they’ve been learning. Their interactions sharpen their social skills and introduce them to society. When their minds let loose, they tap into the power that allows them to conjure up fantastic worlds. With a flick of the hand, the hallway becomes a creek and a living room a forest. By using their imagination, their brains build new neural connections that will help them initiate creative projects and solve problems by pulling ideas out of ‘thin air.’
Learning the principles of sharing, turn-taking, empathy and patience happens between the age three and five. While toddlers tend to amuse themselves independently alongside their peers, they absorb a plethora of social skills. All of that gets written into their subconscious and will drive their behavior as they develop. As games grow in complexity, so do the children’s brains. Through make-believe tea parties or store clerk games, they learn that being nice, considerate and patient leads to rewards.
Connecting with others is at the root of emotional intelligence. It is during play that first relationships form. When a child ‘clicks’ with another, they feel as elated as any adult does when it happens to them. Such connections are important because they stimulate the growth of mirror neurons and build empathy. If one child hurts or is joyful, the other one will feel and reflect it. It shows them how their self-expression influences their environment and teaches them emotional control.
Playdates promote problem solving and decision making. Games that require cooperation and overcoming obstacles influence how your child will interact outside of playtime. Do they consider the other’s point of view? Can they see beyond what’s in front of them? Playdates expand your child’s horizons by exposing them to new experiences. They meet new families, eat new things, create new habits. This makes your child realize that their way is not universal and that it is okay to be different.
Making your child feel like they have a life outside the family is important to instilling within them a sense of individuality and self-esteem. This helps when busyness of life gets in the way of parents spending quality time with their child. Hosting a playdate means the parent cares. Also, being treated by other children as peers helps them define and express their early preferences. They will learn that it is okay to make mistakes and like different things than others do. This sets the stage for forming an agile mind with healthy boundaries.
Physical movement during playdates helps children develop motor coordination, enhance their physical health, build proprioception and instill healthier habits. Children who play, learn ways in which to discharge energy, which can help fight obesity. Connecting with others while jumping or playing tag makes children thrive. When they play, they feel better, more joyful and more like they belong. This can result in enhanced focus and better performance in school.
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