Dr. Toy Talks About Why Play is Essential

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Electronics are invading children's time and focus.

Watching screens is mesmerizing, and the random movements a child makes while engaged in such play actually contributes to a child's mental, social and emotional development.

Play is a natural drive to discover. It's the essence of a happy childhood.

Screen time is an easy, simple substitute, but engaged and playful interaction is essential for child's fullest brain development.

Turning on the TV is easy to do and indicates lax preparation, demanding work schedules and a misunderstanding about the importance of creativity and play.

Babies and toddlers need sounds (music, talking, nature) and engagement with playful parents. Balance is essential, and not just the first two years, but throughout childhood.

Playing games, making creative projects, reading aloud with puppets, solving puzzles, building with blocks and construction toys, outdoor play, throwing balls, Frisbees, jumping rope or riding bikes and being involved with nature are critical for healthy children.

Also add doll play, making projects, creating a puppet theatre from a cardboard box and having fun with variety of transportation toys and many other playthings enriches every child's experiences, mind and verbal expression.

Consider the difference between actually shaping Play-Doh or clay as opposed to seeing a picture of someone engaged in creating something with their hands,

Every library and preschool should consider parents creating a lending toy library to make toys easier to obtain, use and share among families.

When young children have plenty of time to play, absorbing, practicing and learning from mistakes and most of all through discovery, each advances as individuality dictates.

As infants grow, they play with innumerable things around them: their hands, toes, sunbeams coming in through the window, soft toys... They also discover sounds, babbling and talking to themselves. TV interferes with natural forms of play.

Through play, children practice basic skills needed in the classroom and in life. Guided play in the right environment helps a child gain tools needed to sharpen thinking, and heighten sensitivity.

Three types of toys contribute to the development of children: active, creative and educational.

Active playthings,
like blocks, balls, bicycles and jump ropes, improve a child's physical activity and provide exercise;

Creative toys stimulate the child's imagination at all levels, as the child experiences surprise, expands thinking and self-expression. Examples of creative toys include blocks, crafts, dollhouses, mirrors, musical instruments, puppets, stuffed animals and art supplies;

Educational toys help child learn specific skills, and sometimes simultaneously. Any toy can be educational if used in an enriching way. These include board games, books, construction toys, peg-boards, puzzles and audio and video tapes. Play helps with reading, writing and building skills that prepare children for science, math, thinking and problem solving.

While a good play environment and the right types of toys are important, the participatory role of parents is crucial.

Taking time out from work to play reduces stress, improves communication and adds laughter and relaxation to all members of the family, especially the youngest ones.

Parents should encourage and stimulate the child's "PQ", or Play Quotient.

As the child's "Play Guide," parents help the child learn more, and informally teach skills to be happier and get along better with others.

Parents can enhance a child's "PQ" by choosing activities like games and toys carefully, taking the time to read and to play.

Playful parents (and teachers) encourage a child to be playful -- a more playful child is more aware, smarter and more resilient. The benefits are enormous.

Strive for a balance of playthings to stimulate the child's physical, social and mental abilities, challenge thinking and help with problem-solving,

Take control. Each day, turn off electronics and TV! Instead, turn on play and discover happier, healthier and more inquisitive children. Let's play!

© 2013 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD Berkeley CA