Get serious about play time

accreditation
Parents often struggle to squeeze "quality time" activities, like sports and reading, into their kids' already-busy schedules. But in doing so, they could be robbing their children of the playing that comes most naturally and is vital to their development.

Child development experts say free-form playing is every bit as important to a child's growth as any structured activity.

"Playing is critical to children any time of the year," says Joelle Garnick, child life/recreation therapy manager at Temple University Children's Medical Centre. "Play is important because it's a child's way of learning and developing."

Child psychiatrist Dr Elizabeth Berger says one of the main problems confronting parents is confusion about exactly what constitutes real play.

"Something like baseball or soccer is fun and considered playful, but that requires skill and very controlled activity," Berger says. "But real playing is about discovery and being creative with self-generated activity."

In fact, play uses many of the same intellectual skills children will need as adults with careers, she says.

"Someone has said, 'Play is the work of childhood.' For a child, creativity and intellect are the same thing," Berger says. "The world presents its perplexities to a child, and it's through play that a child masters those perplexities."

Garnick adds that an essential aspect of playing is the independence it offers kids.

"When we give children the ability to interact with other kids on an even level and explore the environment on their own, versus 'here's the environment, you will explore it,' it supports their development. Kids need to play," Garnick says.

Play also lets children release emotions in a safe way. It gives them the chance to express feelings or emotions, such as pent-up energy or anxiety, while giving them pleasure. When children play, they're in control. Playtime is free of rules and gives an unlimited number of choices, says Garnick.

Throughout childhood, play takes many shapes and forms. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget described the stages of play as including:

  • sensorimotor play, in which infants and toddlers experiment with bodily sensations and motor movements;
  • symbolic play, in which objects take on a different meaning - wrapping paper becoming a dress, for example;
  • mastery, in which children are in control of their bodies but still possess imagination - becoming a rocket when swinging on a swing, for example;
  • and finally, games, with their rules and order.

Garnick says there's a place for parental structure in play, but only peripherally.

"I like to equate it to a ball in a racquetball court - if you throw the ball, it will go everywhere, but it's not going to get lost because it's in an enclosed space," Garnick says.

"Play without structure is more like having a ball thrown in the middle of a playground without any direction or purpose. So I believe it's important for structuring," she adds.
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
6% - 203 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
81% - 2628 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
12% - 400 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.98
-0.8%
Rand - Pound
19.89
-2.4%
Rand - Euro
17.61
-1.4%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.68
-0.4%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.6%
Gold
1,661.34
+0.1%
Silver
18.78
-0.6%
Palladium
2,218.50
+3.1%
Platinum
870.00
+0.4%
Brent Crude
89.32
+3.4%
Top 40
56,921
-0.9%
All Share
63,264
-0.9%
Resource 10
59,793
+3.3%
Industrial 25
76,769
-2.2%
Financial 15
13,707
-2.8%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE