A popular Canadian politician wrote a social media tribute to her child, on the occasion of their birthday. She wrote “You were 3 when you gave me the best advice ‘You have to play more Mama!’”. Talk about out of the mouths of babes. It has stuck in my mind, months later, what a wise observation this was, coming from a 3-year-old. Not overly surprising though as I have always believed that our children are our best teachers.
As we start the process of hunkering down for the cold winter months, this seems like a good time to take stock and ask ourselves “Do I play enough?”. Further to that let’s consider “Do I play enough with my children?” and then finally why not throw in the question “Does my child play enough?” just for good measure. These are truly the tough questions in a world that does not prioritize play for anyone really, the young or the old. Being “busy” seems to have become a badge of honour rather than something we should re-evaluate and be concerned about.
A few weeks ago, one of our students was yawning one of those great big, exhausted yawns that we, as adults, are all probably too familiar with. I said, “Oh my goodness, why such a big yawn, are you bored?”. Their response was, “No I am just really tired; I had to stay up until 11 last night to get all my homework done”! Rightly concerned, I asked what kind of homework, as I prepared myself to speak to whichever teacher was assigning that much homework, when they told me it wasn’t CGS homework, it was homework from all their other extracurricular classes. Hopefully this was just a one-off, but I know that many of our young friends are currently overloaded with responsibilities beyond regular classroom duties and it worries me. If they aren’t playing enough as children, how will they ever manage to find time for play as adults? And, what ever happened to childhood being that special time of life where responsibilities are few and fun is plentiful?
Traditionally it has been said that play is the work of children. Play is how children learn about the world, themselves, and each other. It’s as much a part of their healthy development as eating nutritious food and getting enough sleep. Even the United Nations lists play as one of the basic rights of every child!
Along with being a whole lot of fun, play is essential to brain development. It supports growth in language and vocabulary as well as emotional intelligence, and it builds imagination and creativity. Children that aren’t allowed to play run the very real risk of burn-out. The positive effects of play on young children are far-reaching, influencing their mental, emotional, and physical health. These benefits extend to adults as well. For adults, play has been shown to release endorphins and improve brain functionality. Play is way more than just fun for both children and adults. It’s a critical part of a healthy lifestyle.
This winter let’s all make a plan to reclaim play as an essential part of a healthy life, for not only our children but for ourselves. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so wisely said, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”