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Research is proving that play is just as beneficial to children's overall health as times of learning are.
"We have just come through a full school year of our children receiving their education during a global pandemic. There has been classroom and online learning, mask-wearing and distancing protocols - things students have never had to do before," says Terry Warburton, Clinical Director of Recovery of Hope Counselling in Winnipeg.
These vast changes have made it difficult for some children to focus in and learn over the past year.
"According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is one thing that helps children to manage toxic stress, promote social-emotional, cognitive, language, self-regulation skills and builds executive function in the brain. Research demonstrates that developmentally appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote all of these capacities for children," she says.
Researchers have found that children who maintained or increased their playtime when the school year began in September of 2020 had better school experiences overall, according to Warburton.
"Play was the activity that significantly separated those who struggled with many aspects of their pandemic experience from those who did well or even thrived. Researchers Gleave & Cole-Hamilton tell us that free play may be the most natural and effective form of learning and is also vital for children’s happiness. Isn’t it such a hopeful thought that the prescription for coping with our complicated world right now with all of its stressors, is play?"
The type of play Warburton is talking about is a specific kind.
"The kind of play that we are talking about is an expressive play that comes from the inside. It’s often creative. It’s about building and creating things, the trial and error of trying to make something work and learning something with each step."
Creative play is different than when children play video games.
"What we all need to be doing is things that support our mental health and overall wellbeing. Children should be encouraged and provided opportunities to spend time outside, playing alone, playing with their parents, siblings and other children and being physically active."
Warburton has talked in length about the importance of play for adults as well.
"Play is one of the the basic human needs that we all have, and when we make sure there is play in our lives, it will significantly contribute to the quality of our life, emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually."
Warburton shares a few examples of what play as an adult means.
"Adult play can at times look a lot like the play of a child - silliness, building, creating, tearing apart. But it can also look like creating music, painting, telling or listening to stories, teasing, dancing, writing, drawing, taking in the beauty around you. And make sure to play with your kids. Be silly and goofy. Do things that make them laugh at you!"