As our babies grow into toddlers and pre-schoolers, life continues to be busy and get busier. Play with our kids can become less of a priority as house work, paid work and daily life rolls on. As adults, we can get caught up in order, organisation, cleanliness and routine. If we have a chance, we just want to relax! It can be hard to remember to make time to meet our little people on a playful level. Playing with our kids and letting go can be hard when we feel so time poor and pressured. It seems easier to resort to screens as digital baby-sitters. But as we know and as research shows, play is essential to the development of a child. Play is natural for children. Play engages the imagination, creativity and joy that is inherent to a child. Since kids learn through play, when we as parents engage in play with our children, we have an opportunity to lay foundations for a happy and healthy life.

The importance of creative play for a child.

Dr Justin Coulson, psychologist, author and parenting expert explains that play meets three vital needs for children: relatedness, competence and autonomy.

  1. Relatedness - Through play, children connect with others and develop relationship skills. They communicate, collaborate and explore conflict, emotions and social situations. They learn to relate.
  2. Competence - When our children play open-ended games they engage imagination and creativity and feel satisfied when they succeed. This engenders confidence and self-esteem and encourages the child to continue to try new things. Play allows children to experience competence.
  3. Autonomy – When children play they are in control and develop resourcefulness and resilience. The become aware of their autonomy and independence.

Play time is synonymous with learning and Dr Justin Coulson supports the intertwining of the two to achieve the best outcomes for kids.

The struggle against the screen.

In 2017 the Australian Child Heath Poll revealed some alarming news around habits of screen time in our homes (rchpoll.org.au). The study, conducted by the Royal Children’s hospital, confirms a trend toward screen use as a digital baby-sitter. It is tempting to occupy a child with a screen so that we can ‘get things done’ and 85% of us do this with our children aged 6 and under. One in four of us uses a screen to distract our little person every day of the week! Half of these kids are using a screen based device without supervision which means we miss opportunities for conversation around what they see and children are missing out on the benefits of creative play.

The Director of the Australian Child Heath Poll, Paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, said that many Australian families are experiencing conflict over screen use (including TV, computers, iPads and other screen based devices) and that excessive use is of concern to parents. Even young children spend a significant amount of time using screens at home; infants and toddlers averaged 14 hours, the two to five year-olds 26 hours, and the six to 12-year age group averaged 32 hours per week. Experts say these figures should be as close to zero as possible.

As parents we need to prioritise play for our kids. Leading by example and switching off the TV or putting down the iPad can be liberating for us. Children rarely need much encouragement to engage in play but sometimes we can benefit from a bit of inspiration. Local playgroups are wonderful places to engage in play with other families in our communities. Another technique to encourage creative play is to keep simple toys and play props in easy reach. When out and about with kids, a small collection of toys or a busy bag can be useful. 

We want our children to thrive. Making time for creative play and minimizing screen time is really important. By joining in play time with our kids we can benefit too! What sort of creative play might you engage in today?

  • learn more from Dr Justin Coulson at www.happyfamilies.com.au
  • the results of the National Child Heath Poll are published at rchpoll.org.au
  • find a Playgroup near you at playgroupaustralia.org.au

Take care,

Kate xx

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