The Importance of Play

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
Healthy Minds
March 08, 2024

Want your child to thrive? Make play a priority?

Child development specialists including educators, psychologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that play builds healthy minds and bodies. It is essential for positive cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development in children.

Through play, your child gets to:

  • Become a creative genius: Play sparks imagination and helps children develop problem-solving skills, spatial awareness, and organization. It builds the foundation for future learning.
  • Move and groove: Playtime is a natural way for kids to build strong muscles and bones and improve their coordination. Play also burns off energy, leading to better sleep.
  • Make friends and build confidence: Play helps children develop social skills like empathy, cooperation, and trust. They learn to share, take turns, and resolve conflicts which serve as valuable lessons for life. Play can also boost their self-esteem and leadership skills.
  • Feel calm and happy: Play can reduce stress, anxiety, and even depression. Children are simply happier when engaging in play.

With busy schedules, the constant use of technology, and an increased focus on academics, playtime often gets squeezed out. However, parents can make a difference. Here are some tips for how you can build more play into your child's day:

  • Join in the fun: Get down on the floor and play with your child. Most children love to get our undivided attention. It's a great way to bond and create lasting memories. Plus, you may expereince more happiness in your day too!
  • Schedule playtime and unplug: Block out time in the day specifically for play, just like you would for other important activities. Have scheduled playtime be "tech-free" so that time serves as a break from screens. This allows your child to focus on creative exploration.
  • Embrace open-ended toys: Look for toys that can be used in many different ways to encourage creativity and imaginative play, such as blocks, dolls, cars, dress-up clothes, art supplies, and building materials. Even cardboard boxes, blankets, pillows, pots and pans, and other everyday items can be transformed into playthings with a little creativity. Avoid toys with too many bells and whistles, as these may limit a child's imagination.
  • Mix it Up: Keep playtime exciting by offering or encouraging different types of activities. Build and explore with toys, get active outdoors, and unleash imaginations with pretend play. Rotate activity types throughout the week to keep things fresh.
  • Follow Their Lead: Observe your child's interests and let them take the lead in playtime. This fosters independence and allows them to explore their passions. Let their creativity guide the experience.
  • Sibling Synergy: Encourage your children to play together. Build forts indoors, create a performance to share with others, or organize family game nights. This promotes social skills, teamwork, and imagination while creating many lasting memories.
  • Go Green: Embrace the outdoors! Take advantage of good weather by having playdates in parks or simply exploring your backyard. Build nature sculptures, have story time under shady trees, or go on nature walks collecting treasures like rocks, leaves, or flowers.
  • Extend the Fun: Turn everyday outings into playful adventures. Bike rides become nature explorations, and "I Spy" games can be played anywhere. Encourage your child to create scavenger hunts around your neighborhood or park, adding a fun twist to familiar places.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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