Thoughtful Parenting: Importance of active summer play
As the school year comes to a close, I remember how much I looked forward to summertime when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time with friends and my little brother. We swam in the pool, explored new areas of town on our bikes and did cartwheels and summersaults until we got too dizzy to stand.
We caught and examined bugs and slugs and built forts in the woods. We made up games, arguing over the rules and taking turns being the leader. We sold lemonade and raspberries to passersby, always closing up shop when we collected enough money for each of us to buy a popsicle at the corner market.
My brother added caterpillars to the menu once when they were particularly abundant, actually selling a few to a neighbor who was too nice to say no. Summers were full of self-directed exploration and learning. Summers were relaxing and fun. Summers were active.
Fast forward to today. Would you be surprised to learn that Harvard University research shows many students are now less active during the summer than during the school year? Say what? Some kids are spending the majority of their days planted on the sofa playing video games and watching TV rather than playing outside. Experts say they are missing out on important cognitive, physical, social and emotional development opportunities.
According to Dr. Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play, “A true sense of interpersonal nuance can be achieved only by a child who is engaging all five senses by playing in the three-dimensional world.”
Through play, children test ideas, problem solve, ask questions and develop an understanding about the people and the world around them. Pretending involves exploring a variety of possibilities and trying on new feelings, roles and ideas. Kids stretch their imaginations and overcome fears, take risks, resolve conflicts, build emotional resilience and develop confidence through play.
According to Brown, play is as fundamental as sleep and dreams when it comes to producing learning, memory and wellbeing. The United Nations agrees, declaring it is a basic right of all children “To engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts” in Article 31 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
So as summer begins, I have taken a moment to reflect on the impact unstructured play has had on me. I have learned so many things through the trial and error of active play.
Examples, such as when it is appropriate to lead and when to follow while working as part of a team have shown me that I can accomplish very difficult things when I treat failures as learning opportunities and find creative ways to persevere … and that there is not a very big market out there for caterpillars.
Kristi Brown, MPH, is the health and wellness coordinator for Hayden and South Routt school districts and a trustee of Yampa Valley Medical Center.
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