Playtime is recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right for every child. Not only is play crucial for your child’s cognitive, emotional and physical development, it is a chance for them to bond with you, other family members and their peers.
However, a recent survey by the Families for Life Council revealed that Singaporean families are spending less and less quality time together for several reasons, including longer working hours for the parents, more schoolwork for the children, and the use of TV and video games from a young age. In addition, some parents are choosing to restrict playtime in favour of more academic and enrichment activities, believing that this will increase their child’s chance of success in life. Not all activity needs to be focused around education. Playing just for fun has its own benefits for your child. Here are some of them!
Play develops a strong imagination
We already know that structured playtime helps children reach specific physical, cognitive and emotional milestones, but did you know that unstructured playtime helps to develop essential life skills as well? Unstructured play has no specific learning objective and is fully led by your child. Following instructions to build a Lego kit, for example, is structured play. Building something creative using the same Lego blocks is unstructured play.
According to a report by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), this is the key to developing a strong imagination. With child-driven play, your child learns how to make their own decisions and is free to explore their own areas of interest. These are essential skills later in life. Try and find a balance between educational activities (e.g. playing shop to learn how to count money) and having fun for fun’s sake (e.g. just playing dress up).
Play reduces stress and builds self-confidence
You may not believe it is possible for your child to be stressed at such a young age. However, according to the AAP, too much scheduled activity and not enough downtime can lead to stress or even depression as your child gets older. Numerous studies demonstrate that there are psychological benefits to playtime. Children manage stress better when they are encouraged to play more often.
Participation in physical activity has also been shown to build self-confidence, facilitate self-expression and enable social integration. Later in life, there is a higher chance that a well-rounded, physically active child will choose to adopt other healthy behaviours, such as avoidance of alcohol and drug use.
Play keeps the heart healthy
According to WHO, children aged 5 – 17 should be getting at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. This not only helps to improve their coordination and motor skills, but also develops healthy bones, muscles, joints and a healthy heart and lungs. Physical play is essential to get the heart pumping and build strong cardiovascular muscles, which helps to lower the risk of heart disease later in life.
Play helps to prevent obesity
Regular physical activity helps to protect your child from developing conditions like obesity or diabetes. This is more important than ever now that Singapore’s Health Promotion Board has reported obesity to be on the rise, with rates projected to hit 15% over the next 7 years. Play-based outdoor activities, such as kicking a ball, using a skipping rope or heading to the local playground, are an ideal way to ensure your kids keep moving for at least an hour a day.
Play strengthens the bond between you and your child
Studies show levels of the hormone oxytocin, which plays an important role in social bonding, increases in your and your child’s system when you play together.
Known as the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter to the brain, increasing feelings of empathy and generosity and acting as an antidote to sadness. Perhaps this partly explains why playtime brings us all so much joy.