With Stacey Marko, Playworker

Playing is definitely one of the best things about childhood, and it offers so much joy and fun to little ones. Far more than just a great way to bring more laughter and smiles, playtime is actually crucial in enriching children’s brains, bodies, and whole selves. As parents, it’s encouraging to learn how play can help our kids develop. We spoke to Playworker Stacey Marko to learn how playtime improves children’s health.

3 Health Benefits of Play

  1. Mental health and well-being 
  2. Holistic Development and Learning 
  3. Physical Health

1.) Mental Health and Well-being

Play helps kids feel good, and it can give them a sense of control over their own lives. Oftentimes kids aren’t given a huge amount of autonomy, and play can be a crucial way to give them a sense of agency. Children’s self-esteem and confidence is bolstered when they feel like they have choices. If we as parents allow our kids freedom of play, they’ll feel like capable individuals who can begin to practice newfound skills. 

Kids may be experiencing an uneasy sense of uncertainty after having faced more restrictions in recent months than ever before. Giving them more opportunities to self-direct their own play can help them with self-regulation and healthy expression. Through play, kids can practice managing big emotions, which can be especially beneficial during times of stress. 

2.) Holistic Development and Learning

Play is the key way that children learn and develop, both on the inside and out. It’s a natural instinct, and allows us to learn about how we operate internally and externally. Play is beneficial for the whole self, and assists with both hard and soft skills. Outwardly noticeable social abilities are boosted through play, like learning how to listen to others, how to show empathy, and how to care for our peers. Communication skills are developed, including both verbal and non-verbal cues. Play can also help kids be more open-minded and consider possibilities, as it encourages experimentation. Kids can try things out, but since it’s not a real-life scenario, they’ll feel braver and test different approaches. 

Play develops children’s bodies too by improving fine motor functions, which can help with future skills like writing and typing. Kids can also build hand-eye coordination and stronger muscles through active play. 

Internally, play is also key to brain development, as it helps to support the structure of neural pathways. Play can act like a building block to help kids build their brains in relation to problem solving, emotional responses, adaptability, and physical aptitude. 

3.) Physical Health

Play often includes active elements, which can bolster muscle development. Running, jumping, and climbing can help kids to stay healthy. Although not all playtime needs to be active, when it is, it can aid in staying fit. In the past few months at home, kids haven’t had the opportunity to play as freely as usual. To remedy that now, kids can get a healthy dose of exercise if given the space and the time to have unstructured play. The added bonus is that with active play, kids will also sleep better, and will be more rested because they are able to release all their pent up energy. Definitely a win/win! 

Speaking with Stacy reminded us that we need to create a culture of support for kids to ensure they get enough play. As parents, we can facilitate playtime by creating a space for kids to play — not only a physical area, but also a mental space that allows playtime. Make sure it’s not all homework and scheduled activities for kids – allow them free time without any set expectations. Over-scheduling can create stress, and it’s crucial to set time aside to let kids use their own ideas and imagination and just “be”. Remember too that boredom can actually lead to some of the most inspired creativity! 

Above all, the most critical message is that playtime is fundamental to the quality of childhood. As parents, we must recognise that play is one of the main ways our kids engage. By supporting their playtime, we support our kids’ active participation in the world, which could contribute to a positive future for us all. 

Stacey Marko is a mum of three and an aspiring academic with a passion for children’s play and an advocate for children’s rights.  Stacey has worked with children for over 23 years and has a vast amount of experience and expertise in the areas of childhood, children’s play and children’s rights. She is a postgraduate research student at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and is working hard on her PhD which explores children’s outdoor play in urban and rural environments.  Stacey is active on Twitter and uses it to engage with other people who share her passion and research interests!  Please feel free to give her a follow at: @StaceyMarko

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