Whenever the end of the school year approaches and I begin to think about what our summer will look like, I always seem to have (WAY TOO) high expectations of the “work” we’ll get through over their 3 month hiatus from school. I think about spending an hour leisurely reading together on the coach each morning, or printing out cute math worksheets to make sure they don’t suffer from the usual summer slide. I’ve even contemplated hiring tutors to boost their reading skills or signing them up for expensive STEM camps to make sure they have lots of educational opportunities.
Ugh. It’s ridiculous how hard we all try to make sure our kiddos have it all, isn’t it?
In the end, our summer mornings look nothing like my good-intentioned predictions. Instead of worksheets, my kids are usually playing on their screens. Instead of reading together each morning, we’re usually sleeping late. Instead of tutors and camps and learning opportunities, I send the kids out to play at the park or find friends.
Summer is a blur, and for the most part, I love it, and about a week in, I stop caring that we’re not doing all the work I was planning on doing. I give in to the blur, and the fun of hot days, swimsuits, bickering, snacks (ALL THE SNACKS), walks in the conservancy and trips to the local pool.
Here’s the thing: I could feel guilty, but instead, I choose to look at the power of play. It’s been well documented (and studied!) and it’s never been clearer that play is incredibly important for kids. In fact, when you start to look at all the research on play, you’ll find that the benefits seem nearly endless. In fact, according to this article from the Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child”.
What is it about play that makes it SO important for kids? Well, here are some of the benefits:
Play builds social skills.
This seems obvious, but in a world where we spent nearly 2 years doing most everything on a screen, our pandemic kids need social skills and time with peers more than ever. Playing helps kids navigate disagreements, resolve problems, learn to navigate different personalities and SO MUCH MORE. Action for Healthy Kids says, “It helps us develop a sense of belonging and boost confidence to take risks and try new things, explore our creativity, and problem solve.”
It can help build confidence.
Play often involves pushing limits and trying new things – whether it’s building a fort in the woods, climbing a tree, playing a new game with friends or taking (age-appropriate) risks. All of these are beneficial to development. According to Let it Grow, “When kids have the opportunity to react to real situations and test the waters on their own, they can tackle new situations and opportunities without hesitating”.
It builds physical skills.
Play doesn’t have to be active, but it often is! Think playing tag, climbing a jungle gym, kicking a soccer ball or riding a bike. We all know how important physical health is, and The Genius of Play sums it up perfectly: “Active play is critical for kids’ physical development. It helps children hone their coordination, balance, gross-motor skills (large movements like crawling and walking) and fine-motor skills (smaller movements like picking objects up).”
There are SOOO many reasons why play is important for kids (and this post is only scratching the surface), but play is so much more than just “fun”. Let your kiddos enjoy their time this summer (even if it means skipping those worksheets once in a while) and don’t forget to join in the fun sometimes, too!