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Importance of Play for Children's Physical Development

by Stacey Chaloux, studioD

Children need time to play and be active each day. You might have noticed your child's natural tendency to run, jump and climb, and while it seems as though he is just having fun, it is critical for his physical development. He is learning to control his body, balance and improve his hand-eye coordination. Besides these physical skills, play can help build healthful habits for an active life.

Types of Play

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children engage in activity that is age-appropriate. Toddlers should have supervised, unstructured play in a variety of environments. Playing at the park or in the backyard can help your toddler master basic movements such as running, jumping, galloping and kicking. Preschoolers should also engage in supervised and mostly unstructured play. Because their motor skills are improving, they enjoy jumping rope or throwing and catching balls. You can add some structured games such as tag and hopscotch at this age. School children enjoy unstructured playtime that involves running, tumbling and ball play. By this age, children can get involved in organized team sports because they can are improving their ability to use sophisticated movement patterns and they have better visual tracking and balance.

How Much Play

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that all children should be involved in at least 60 minutes of physical play each day. According to the AAP, that time does not have to be continuous, but can be broken into smaller chunks of throughout the day. It is important to provide several times during the day in which your child can play, including unstructured time and organized activities. Take him to playgrounds, move the furniture to create a large indoor space or provide equipment he enjoys playing with to keep him active during the day.

Health Benefits

Keeping kids active through play encourages them to continue those healthful habits throughout their life. Physical play can help them build stronger muscles and have improved bone density. Staying active leads to better heart and lung function, and helps prevent obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol. KidsHealth also lists better sleep and a better self-esteem as benefits of physical play. An added benefit of active play is a boost in brain function, according to HealthyChildren.org, and studies show that a child's IQ can be lower if they are not active during their first five years of life.

How You Can Help

To ensure that your kids are getting the physical play they need each day, take a few actions. First of all, keep the play fun. Making children participate in activities they are not interested in or that are not age-appropriate can take away the enjoyment of physical play. You should also lead by example and get involved in the play with your child. Technology available to kids today can decrease the amount of time they spend engaged in physical play, so the AAP recommends limiting your child's time spent watching TV and playing video games to two hours each day.

About the Author

Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.

Photo Credits

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