The Importance of Pretend Play

We often hear parents, teachers and caretakers gripe about how they cannot get their kids to sit still. Research shows that the main reason kids are unable to focus and socialize properly can be traced back to a lack of play in their childhood.

A recent article by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook, shares on her realization on the importance of play for preschoolers. Ages 0–7 are traditionally known as the “pre-academic” age. Yet many parents, with the desire to enrich their children’s life and give them a head start, give them academic schooling early on in their childhood to prepare them for kindergarten. Although the intentions are right, children need a healthy balance of play and academics in order to develop healthy bodies and minds. Hanscom got a wake up call when her daughter’s preschool teacher came and told her, “Your daughter is doing well academically. In fact, I’d say she exceeds expectations in these areas. But she is having trouble with basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.”

Many of us are so focused on academic success for our children that sometimes we forget play is a huge (and necessary) part of childhood. Actually, much of a child’s development is acquired through “meaningful” play. These are skills that cannot necessarily be taught by caregivers, but rather skills that the child develops on their own. Through active free play, a child starts to build many of the foundational life skills that they will need to be successful in their lifetime. They benefit from skills such as coordination, concentration, emotional management, problem-solving and social interactions.

If we give children the opportunity to play outdoors, use their imaginations, to experience free play and to play with their peers; we may find that the coping skills, social skills and attention skill that we attempt to “teach” our children are actually naturally developed through meaningful play. We simply need to allow our kids to be kids!

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