Play & Development
As parents, we have many responsibilities to our children: keeping them clothed, fed, safe, and healthy poses many questions, requires wise decision-making, and can offer up some unique challenges at times. Of course, the job doesn’t end there! Our children also look to us for help with learning and developing their skills.
The beauty of this is that you don’t have to be an educator to give them all they’ll need to succeed. Simple play strategies and well-designed toys help kids to learn naturally on their own, and give you tools to work with when helping them master new information. Another key? Letting them play unprompted and unsupervised, referred to as “free play” which has myriad benefits and shouldn’t be skipped.
The Importance of Free Play
While learning toys can play a big role in child development, so, too, can letting kids play on their own. Independent free play facilitates a great deal of personal and intellectual development, and it is often left behind in deference to schedules packed with extracurriculars as well as fears about letting children play unsupervised.
As it turns out, kids miss out on a lot when they’re deprived of that playtime. Studies have shown that more young adults now report higher levels of depression and anxiety, and feel less in control of their general life path. Additionally, fears of children being unsafe without supervision are often unfounded, as crime rates are in decline.
A few key ways in which free play impacts our kids:
- Helps them bounce back from disappointment: Disappointments are a natural part of life, and when kids have the opportunity to try new things and explore on their own, they’ll encounter both successes and disappointments. It’s those successes that will bolster them to rally and try again in the face of disappointment, but when kids don’t have the chance to try things on their own and have these experiences, they’re sometimes less able to cope with disappointment when it does happen.
- Helps conquer childhood fears: Though fears and mild phobias are fairly normal in childhood, opportunities to take small, age-appropriate risks during independent free play helps kids establish a sense of what’s safe and what isn’t, which can help to assuage fear of the unknown.
- Boosts decision-making skills: When interacting with different people and situations through their independent free play, kids become better at critical thinking and making decisions based on the information and perspective they gain.
- Encourages physical activity: Some of the most beneficial free play takes place outside and in motion, where kids will stretch their muscles and engage in healthy exercise. Time spent outside at play can also help to foster a lifelong love of staying active.
The Many Roles of Arts Education
Most kids take some joy in expressing themselves creatively, even if they’re not the next Picasso or Rembrandt. Experimenting with art supplies offers opportunities for them to learn new skills, persevere through errors, discover a new passion or hidden talent, and have a tangible creation they can be proud of.
While STEM education often gets credit heaped for offering the greatest benefits to our kids developmentally, science has shown that the benefits of arts education both in and out of the classroom are profound. Here are just a few of the ways arts education positively impacts kids:
- Motor skill improvement: Use of markers, paintbrushes, clay, and other art mediums in a focused, thoughtful fashion encourages small motor skill development, which helps children to be more coordinated.
- Improved confidence: Spending time learning about new artistic mediums, skills, and techniques and having the opportunity to try their hand can help kids feel more confident about their creative skills and abilities. Seeing the results of consistent attempts to improve can also bolster their confidence and increase their drive to persevere.
- Increased empathy: When learning about the role art played and continues to play in other cultures, children begin to better understand the stories told by art from around the world and connect to the emotions and experiences that are being conveyed, increasing their sense of empathy and connection with others.
- Encouragement of self-expression: Kids have big feelings, both positive and negative, and having a safe and productive way to express and channel them can help to prevent distress and some behavioral problems. Art is all about self-expression, encouraging them to release what’s on their mind or show off their personal style.
- Improved concentration: When learning to use new artistic techniques and practicing to get them right, kids use focus to stay on task and persevere, a skill which has clear benefits in other scholastic areas.
Drama classrooms and time spent in theatre education are also poised to offer unique benefits to kids. There are both socio-emotional and scholastic components to studying drama, which offers an important balance to their STEM education. Here’s just a few of the benefits theatre education has to offer kids:
- Improved emotional regulation: Part of effectively performing in theatre is being able to regulate one’s emotions, focusing on the task at hand and role to be played, and capturing the character’s emotional state rather than your own. Doing this can help children to improve their ability to regulate their own emotions, allowing them to stay calm and avoid outbursts.
- Increased reading achievement and vocabulary: When studying new plays and pieces, it’s common for kids to learn new words and dialects, making them stronger readers and improving their vocabulary.
- Increased intercultural sensitivity: Texts and plays studied in drama education may center around people and places children are unfamiliar with, helping to humanize other cultures and making children more empathetic and interculturally sensitive.