Playtime isn't just play for our children

Thursday, March 31, 2016 3:10 PM

By Jacqueline Juliana

Bayfield Primary School

Would you like to boost your child's confidence and self-esteem?

How about accelerate their problem solving skills, creativity, socialization skills, ability to emotionally regulate, develop emotional intelligence, improve their executive function, reduce stress, fortify your attachment, and generally increase brain development? Yes? Great!

Having a fun time, on top of all this, would be too much to ask right? Wrong! Read on. You can do this with just a little time regularly, no money and no commute. You already have all it takes. This magic something is very simple.

It is child-directed play.

Play is far more than simple rehearsal of scenarios and a way to pleasantly pass the time. t is behavior that is intrinsically fun, where the actions themselves are more important than the product.

Play behavior is innate and exists in all mammals. It is believed to be crucial to our development and survival. There are all kinds of play: manipulative (puzzles, playing with objects, deconstructing things, crafts); curious (exploring); rough and tumble play; social play; and pretend play to name a few. Out of all the types of play, pretend play is my personal favorite.

Pretend play allows children to take on roles in unreal or fantasized situations. It is a wonderful catalyst for creativity, imagination and problem solving. Pretend play allows children to imagine make believe problems and push themselves to develop solutions. What I love most about pretend play is that despite the imaginary nature of the scenarios, the play itself provides a wonderful reflection of the child's internal world. Additionally, I've noticed a delightful correlation between those kids that are adept at pretend play and strong creative writing skills.

Incredible Years, a research-supported parent training program developed by Carolyn Webster Stratton, recommends playing with your child 15 minutes daily. Play should be child-directed. This means the child takes the lead in governing the storyline/activity of the play. Also of great importance during play is to set liberal but firm boundaries.

Such boundaries may include limits on hurting people and things such as "People are not for hurting", "Toys are not for breaking", and "Messy play happens outside."

Articulating the boundaries before and during play helps avoid power struggles. Finally, remember to withhold judgements: overpraising a child may limit a child as much as criticism would. Overpraising encourages the child to repeat the action simply to please you and stifle exploration. As opposed to praise, reflect what you observe the child doing. This encourages the child's esteem without curbing creativity. Feed ingenuity by allowing elephants to be green, turned over bowls to be turtles and a sock to be a snake.

When kids ask what an item is, give permission for the item to be anything they want it to be as long as it doesn't violate the ground rules. Just watch and see the cool stuff they come up with and enjoy watching your children blossom through play!

Jacqueline Juliana, better known as "Ms. J" is the counselor at Bayfield Primary School. She loves to play with kids, help connect families with the resources they may need and learn new things. She can be reached at or 884-0881.