The MILO State of Play study found that, while more than 90% of parents and grandparents believe play to be essential for children’s development, it is rapidly falling off the list of priorities. As a result, more than 45% of kids in Australia and New Zealand between ages 8 and 12 don’t play every day.
Active play is essential in helping children to develop physically, mentally and socially as well as being a fantastic opportunity to strengthen the bonds between child and parent. Play is also a fun and easy way to get kids physically active and enjoying the outdoors – great habits to form at an early age.
play and learn
According to Dr Paula Barrett*, active play is essential to help kids learn important life skills, develop imagination and creativity, form habits and cope in changeable situations. These activities also help children to form bonds with others, learn the basic rules for healthy relationships, develop language and communication skills, and build confidence in social situations.
Experts believe that sometimes joining in with your children in this type of play can help to strengthen the bonds between parent and child, as Mum and Dad essentially become peers in the game. Here your influence can be of optimal impact, providing a great opportunity to teach your child valuable, practical lessons in an informal environment where learning doesn’t seem like a chore.
Unstructured play with others also creates the ideal dispositions for learning by inspiring curiosity, openness, creativity, problem solving and optimism whilst developing concentration and alertness. Dr Barrett also says that regular play assists kids in getting a better night’s sleep, ensuring they have the right amount of rest needed for proper mental development.
Professor Grant Schofield* says that active, unstructured play is essential to brain development, and is emerging as a critical determinant of brain health in children. With stimulation and active exploration, play helps connect and refine brain pathways, providing intellectual and cognitive benefits.
Play is a major contributor in helping to develop fundamental motor skills, connecting our brains to our bodies and aiding in vision and coordination. It is also vital in teaching us, from a young age, to accurately perceive our own physical limitations.
Active, unstructured play has the added benefit of introducing and honing a child’s capacity for risk assessment. According to Professor Schofield, activities that involve some risk (climbing, sliding, jumping, dodging obstacles, etc.) contribute substantially to the ability of the brain to manage emotions and assess risk. As Professor Schofield points out, “The appropriate time to learn how to manage risk and emotion is when climbing a tree at eight years old, not behind the wheel of a fast car at 17.”
The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing states that children aged 5 to 12 years need at least 60 minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity every day (Source: Australia’s Physical Activity recommendations for 5-12 year olds, 2004). Active play is an easy and fun way for kids to help their physical development and maintain healthy weight.
More vigorous active play usually involving hopping, running and jumping – all great weight-bearing exercises which helps promote muscle and bone development and growth.
During active play kids can also learn an array of useful skills such as throwing, catching and kicking, providing valuable experience that helps to build a child’s confidence and enabling them to take part in a wide variety of sports and recreational activities as they get older.
Regular physical activity from a young age gives kids a great start in life. Healthy habits and practices initiated at this developmental stage have a good chance of continuing through into teen years and subsequently adulthood. In addition to this, regular physical activity helps to safeguard children against a ream of ailments.
*Dr Paula Barrett
Dr Paula Barrett is one of the world’s leading psychologists in the area of prevention and treatment of childhood anxiety and depressive disorders. She is currently a professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Education and Australian National University’s School of Psychology, has written more than 160 peer-reviewed journals and her research is highly cited internationally. Dr Barrett is also the Director of the innovative research-based Brisbane clinic, Pathways Health and Research Centre.
*Professor Grant Schofield
Professor of Public Health and Director of the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition at The Auckland University of Technology. Dr. Schofield has extensive experience in physical activity health promotion, the psychology of physical activity, and overweight/obesity research. He is a recognised expert in the benefits of activity in children and youth. He is the author of many international research papers, and a regular speaker at national and international conference in his area of expertise.