Hilary Kent, D.P.T.
With summer in full swing and seemingly unlimited opportunities for kids to play, it’s a good time to remember that play isn’t just fun — it’s the foundation for healthy growth.
Play strengthens bones, muscles, lungs and the heart, and can help reduce obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.
In addition to the positive physical benefits of play, play is also important for emotional and mental development. Play helps build confidence — think of the boost kids get when they go down the “big slide” or learn to pump on a swing — and can teach them how to problem solve.
Children learn how to work in a community through play. It teaches them to explore the relationships they see adults modeling, helps them become aware of their surroundings, and allows them the opportunity to control their environment.
Play is also a great way for kids to release energy, something most parents already know. Play is a great way for kids to work through their emotions. Getting that energy out also allows them to focus on other tasks and sleep better.
Tips for encouraging play
Play doesn’t have to be structured, complicated or require expensive equipment. Providing ideas can be helpful, but kids should direct their own play when possible. Parents should join in, because children are more likely to be playful when they see their parents participating.
Low-cost and simple play ideas
Outdoor play ideas:
- Teach kids games from your childhood, such as hop scotch, “Mother May I” or “Simon Says.”
- At a playground, pretend the ground is lava with the goal to move across the playground without touching the ground.
- Ride bikes.
- Run around the block or down the street as fast as you can.
- Make dirt soup.
- Create a nature collection.
- Go on a color or shape walk by choosing a color or shape and trying to find it along the walking path.
Indoor play ideas:
- Use pillows or cushions to create an obstacle course.
- Have an indoor snowball fight with soft balled socks.
- Secure colored paper to the floor and race from color to color.
- Have a treasure hunt in your home by hiding small objects and giving your child directions to find them.
- Check out indoor play areas that encourage play as well as large-muscle activity, such as the play area at River Hills Mall in Mankato or the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota.
Parents, no matter where play happens, it’s important for children as well as grownups. Play can lower stress hormones and provide many of the same physical benefits for you as it does for kids. So, play along with the kids; it’s good for you.Hilary Kent, D.P.T., is a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.