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  • Writer's pictureKristen Conte

The Right to Play

These days, I feel like the phrase “child’s play” has taken on a different meaning. Instead of it implying something small or inferior, child’s play has become a significant topic across the world. There's more and more discussion around the importance of play for children and how it serves as a natural resource for children to learn, grow and explore the world around them. As an adult reflecting back, I think about what play meant for me and how it was framed in my childhood home growing up. What did play mean for you as a child? For some, play meant:

  • competitive, organized sports;

  • imaginative play;

  • Play structured around learning; or,

  • an annoying child pastime that got in the way of completing chores and housework.

It's important to think about how you frame play in your own home and where these beliefs come from.

As we begin to understand the value of play and its important role for children, do you feel excited that play is valued? Stressed about how to bring more play into your home? Worried about doing play right? In this blog, we hope to share a little more about what play is, why it’s essential for children and some fun ideas about how to incorporate it into your lives. There is no right way to be playful and joyful! Tap into that inner child of yours, welcome them into your present and let them be your guide as you engage in play with your own children !

What is play?

Did you know that play is embedded in Article 31 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child here in Canada? When it comes to defining play, there are various kinds of play we can explore with our children and families - many of which you probably already do without even knowing it. Hooray! You’re already on your way! Some types of play shared by the Canadian Public Health Association are:

  • Unstructured child-led play: “a type of play where children follow their own instincts, ideas, and interests without a defined purpose or outcome. Unstructured play can also include play that provides opportunities for challenge as well as exploring boundaries, helping children to determine their own limits”

  • Structured play: “activities that have guidelines and rules, or that are directed by an adult”. This type of play can include games like tag or organized sports activities; it is a type of play where the child follows rules instead of following their own navigation or curiosity.

  • Outdoor play: “play that takes place outdoors and includes elements of natural play. Natural play involves playing with the elements found in nature (water, mud, rocks, and playing within forests or hills) as well as playing with loose materials or objects (sticks, pinecones, leaves, grass, etc.)”

  • Active play: includes play that is both active and unstructured. It includes activities played with moderate to vigorous intensity, improving a child’s physical overall health and wellbeing (cardiovascular and musculoskeletal)

Why is play essential?

At times, I think we as parents get caught up in the baby-milestone race. Who’s child walked first? Clapped first? Wrote their name first? This type of thinking is overwhelming and the focus isn't always the healthiest for parents and children alike. It forces unrealistic expectations upon children, and upon their development. According to the Canadian Public Health Association, “play is crucial for children’s mental and emotional health, and it can reduce their experiences of depression, anxiety, aggression, and sleep problems. It improves children’s physical, mental, and social health, and has a critical role in healthy development by improving motor skills, social behaviour, independence, and conflict resolution”. We can’t underestimate the value of play! According to the College of Early Childhood Educators, play based learning “... respects children’s natural curiosity and interests and builds competence and self-confidence. Moreover, play is essential because:

  • Play invites full body movement and inclusion;

  • Play frames events as problems or challenges to become curious about;

  • Play emphasizes activities that are child-led; and,

  • Play boundaries create a space for exploring the world around our children.

Encouraging the right to play at home:

  • Set aside time for play in your child’s busy day. There are many structured activities available to children but remember that unstructured play time is an extremely valuable time for learning as well!

  • Join in your child’s play! Let them guide the play, but take the opportunity to reinforce inclusive social behaviors like sharing, taking turns and role-playing.

  • Create safe and stimulating play environments within your home

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