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(Editor’s note: please welcome Marina, writing about child development and play. Thanks Marina!)

One of the biggest differences I have noticed in children today and in children of let’s say, my time, is in the way we play. While we still have kids who run around the playground and get in to a sandbox, the role of modern technology and the demands of academic life have evolved so much that play is not given as much value as it deserves. In my opinion, that is kind of sad. Children lose out on so much when they do not have enough time for play.

In schools, for example, the need to meet the state standards of reading or math test scores can at times overshadow play time. In some Asian countries, children are expected to complete very rigorous academic tasks even at age four or five. In these schools, playtime is often a luxury and not a regular part of the curriculum. At times, play is even deemed a waste of time or something to be done only AFTER work is completed. As a result, children are stressed out, tired and while academically competent, can be less socially competent. To be fair, early childhood programs in most states are still very play-based and integrate play into learning, especially those that adhere to a child-centered learning environment and advocate for developmentally appropriate practices.

In the home front, one way play has changed so much is in the fact that kids tend to focus more on computer or technology based games. From the Wii to the Xbox to handheld consoles and the like, kids are less involved in the physical playing with one another. To some degree, they have taken the playgrounds online and it is there that they “play”. In Social Networking Sites such as My Space and Facebook, for example, one can see how our tweens and teens have taken on to playing there. Granted it is but an extension of their offline play interactions, it still has changed the dynamics of communication and social interaction in many ways. Role playing games and even virtual worlds have been created, for example, and it is here where they interact and engage with one another.

The decline in play activities, or changes should I say, definitely impact the way our children develop nowadays. For one, because our kids do not run and play the way they used to, we see so many more overweight and unfit children, compared to the time when our play activities were less computer-based and were more physical. Further, the changes in play can also affect the way our children learn to think and solve problems on their own. To be fair, it cannot be denied that the new ways we play today have positive contributions to the development of children today.

Play is truly an important part of the normal developmental process. The National Association for the Education of Young Children highlights the value of play. They deem it as “an important vehicle for developing self-regulation as well as for promoting language”. It is through play activities that children are able to hone their competencies in a holistic and developmentally appropriate manner. Further, play gives them ample opportunities to engage in social interaction thus contributing to their socioemotional development by allowing them to express their feelings in the context of others and learn how to regulate such emotions. Cognitively, play contributes to their problem solving and logical thinking abilities. Essentially, play becomes a means of practicing for future interaction. This was highlighted by an article that posited the value of play and how important developmental tasks which children are expected to master are met.

In homeschooling, one thing I get to appreciate is the fact that I can integrate learning into play. By using games as the springboard for learning, I am able to make my kids appreciate the value of what it really means to learn. It is not just the accumulation of information, after all. Rather, it is the integration of what we gain from learning experiences and how we make sense of it.

There is this poem I read once that actually sums up everything I want to convey with this post. It is called Just Playing by Anita Wadley. There are a number of versions of the poem online but essentially the poem talks about how for a child, nothing is really “just play”. When they tell stories, build with blocks, put on costumes and hunt for bugs, they are not just playing and getting dirty. They are exploring their world. They are practicing for a future. And as the author ended her poem, for them, their play is work.

I will be the first to admit that there have been times when I myself have reprimanded my children for “just playing” instead of studying or doing something more meaningful, but then I try to stop myself and remember: it is not just play. And so I try to let them play.

Guest Post written by Marina of contemporary table lamps store located at 1001TableLamps.com

Earnest Parenting: helping parents remember that play is important.

Photo provided courtesy of epSos.de via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.