Play is your child’s work. It’s how they learn and develop, and you’ll be well aware of that. You’ll also know that playtime is the perfect opportunity to build a stronger bond with your kids by reverting to childhood and playing games with them or asking them to show you how their preschool toys work.
As a parent, you’ll obviously be willing to join in during playtime. But the question is, how long and how often? The good news is, you don’t have to bring out the stopwatch and the clipboard when you connect with your children through play. You don’t have to keep track of every minute and attain some sort of time target. Quantity is not important, but quality very much is.
A study by the Journal of Marriage and Family confirms this. The study found that spending time with your kids can actually be harmful to them if you’re tired, stressed, guilty, or feeling anxious. Children pick up so much from us through verbal and non-verbal cues and if you’re not at your best while playing, this can upset them and detract from what you’re trying to achieve.
This is why they’d rather spend just 20 minutes playing with you when you’re in a great mood rather than 120 minutes when you’re not. It really is all about quality versus quantity. That means being totally focused on the activity you’re sharing with your child, and not scrolling through your phone while you play, or wandering off every few minutes to check on what is cooking in the kitchen. Turn off the phone, and the oven, and concentrate solely on the task at hand.
“Task” might seem a strange word to use in this context. But as we said earlier, play is your child’s work. They’re in the business of learning and developing during their playtime sessions. You can promote their learning by joining them and giving them your undivided attention but we understand that is not always possible. There are times when they will need to play on their own – under your supervision of course, even if you can’t be directly involved.
Again, you might want to know how much time they should spend playing every day, and what types of play it should be. To start with, we must note the difference between play and physical activity. It’s easy to think of these two things as being one and the same, but it will be helpful to look at them separately.
When it comes to physical activity, it can be split up into three main areas: aerobic, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening are what is required at an early age. strengthening and bone strengthening. The Centre of Disease Control in America says children need at least 60 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. They also require a minimum of 60 minutes of both muscle and bone-strengthening activities at least three days per week. This not only keeps kids fit and at a healthy weight but also develops motor skills and improves their general wellbeing.
In terms of play, which could be unstructured sessions where kids decide what they want to play with, or structured where they play with toys and games that have been chosen by you (or another adult like a teacher or babysitter) the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “ideally, at minimum, children should receive 30 minutes of instructor or parent-guided play each day, and at least one hour of unobstructed, uncomplicated free playtime.” But remember, when it’s time for you to join your child for a play session, make sure it is distraction-free and that you approach this time with a positive and happy attitude.