Why is Play so Important?
“According to experts, play is our best resource for family bonding and for parents and children to get to know each other better.”
Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. I’m practicing at doing nothing on purpose. If I can get really good at doing “no thing,” I can discover the gifts that come from the stillness and quiet. Then, I can impart that skill to my children.
Melissa Bernstein, from the toy company Melissa & Doug, spoke about “Giving Children the Gift of Boredom” at the US Play Coalition’s annual conference. She encouraged doing “nothing” and how there’s “power in boredom” because finding ways to fill time sparks imagination.
Our culture calls us to fill every second of our day with something. What is this constant busyness doing to us? What is it doing to our children?
We’ve become a society that’s exhausted, on edge, and emotionally overspent. We’re afraid of missing out or being left behind. We’re lonely, isolated, and insecure. According to Bernstein, getting bored is the best choice anyone can make for themselves and their children. Boredom reduces stress, increases creativity, and the overall sense of well-being.
As an adult, you have to learn first to teach your children what you have learned. Make sense? The following are four critical steps for you to learn about doing nothing, especially during these difficult times:
- Set aside time for nothing. You can be in nature with no purpose other than to be present. Sit in a favorite chair and just enjoy the quiet.
- Take advantage of those in-between moments and try doing nothing. Enjoy silence or relaxing music instead of cramming in a podcast during your daily commute or before you start work.
- Give yourself permission to daydream. Positive, constructive daydreaming is purposefully unfocused time. It gives your brain a chance to reflect and problem-solve.
- Bring back play. What do you enjoy doing for fun? Give yourself time to do it. Laugh. Connect with your unique-to-you joys.
If you want to get ahead in life, boredom is how to do it without compromising your health. Gift yourself with a more attuned life to who you are and who you want to become.
Embracing boredom is a discipline that takes practice and courage. Setting aside the time and sitting in the “no-thing-ness” will be difficult initially, but the effort will revive your soul with each new day. This is a lifelong pursuit, so don’t wait to pass this gem on to the next generation. Your children need to get bored as soon as possible.
You’ve likely heard the “I’m bored” cry from your children more than once. Moreover, they will probably want you to fix the situation by filling up their day with activities, ideas, or a screen.
Don’t do it.
“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something,” said Winnie the Pooh.
Instead, give them the gift that will serve them for the rest of their lives—give them the power to own the space in their day. Yes, I suggest you provide them with space in their day instead of filling it up for them. This gives your children a blank canvas to paint for themselves. They learn to own their own thoughts and decisions. By choosing for themselves, children explore what they want to know more fully. Through self-driven discovery, they are introduced to the joy of exploring something for themselves.
How does play affect child development?
While teachers and providers may light the spark of learning through fun activities or introduce a child to something interesting, free time to play fans the flame of learning more. This space gives children the opportunity to make choices and helps them process their emotions and experiences. It’s easy to ignore a feeling or a troubling experience when presented with distraction after distraction. However, open space gives them time to think through, sort out, and grow from the past instead of bottling it up (like many adults still do). That time sitting alone will help with their emotional regulation and teach the child to become a self-initiator.
Be forewarned–your children will not like it at all. They’ll use every tactic to make you the fixer. It takes practice and patience. However, every time you endure the tension, they will take another step toward their own ideas, thoughts, and dreams. Over time, their inner superhero will amaze you. Children have creativity and passion ready to be unearthed. That “nothing” time will look different for each person, but the benefits are far-reaching.
How do children learn to cope with stress through play?
“In high-stress situations, children find joy by using their imagination. Puzzles, LEGOS, and building blocks help children find meaning and involve iterative thinking (e.g., experimentation) and social interaction (the most powerful resource we have).”
According to the Lego Foundation, research shows a link between play and children’s ability to understand and cope with the demands of their environment, respond to challenges with creative problem solving, and manage their anxiety in stressful situations. Increasing spaces and opportunities for quality play in children’s daily lives and contexts—at home, in school, and public areas—provides them with ways to channel negative emotions and practice strategies to overcome stress, the Lego Foundation added. So, go ahead and play, or just get bored!
Check out the resources below, the Resource Page, Family Engagement Collection, or Family Activities Collection, to learn more about the benefits of “PLAY Time,” ideas and activities that promote play, and how to keep children active.
- Stress Management Tips for Children: The Perfect Toy (video)
- Learning to Cope through Play (research)
- Family Challenges Can Keep Your Bored Children Busy (article)
- MFE Presents: Safe Toys and Gifts Month (video)
- Toy Safety Tips (tip sheet)
- Playground Safety Tips (tip sheet)
- I Did Nothing Today: 5 Tips to Get More Details from Children (article)