Play before work

As parents and guardians we want our young people to have fun while still teaching them how to be responsible, resilient and confident people. We want to teach them skills and give them experiences that will develop traits essential to their success and happiness. We want them to thrive.

Between trying to balance school and extracurricular activities, the focus can end up being predominantly on responsibilities, time management and getting things done before fun and play occurs. While there are times when these are important, holding them as the only way to operate can seriously inhibit the development of a child’s mental well-being. In busy times it can be ‘all work and no play’, leaving your child exhausted and depleted.

When children are taught to put play on hold, they may end up believing that you have to put happiness on hold as well. A lesson that is more likely to develop resilience and mental well-being is that it’s possible to have fun and be happy while being responsible and getting tasks done.


The Art of Play

Play is also an integral part of how a child learns. According to research play improves memory, stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex, helps develop math skills and improves their investigative skills. Kids pay more attention to academic tasks when they are given frequent, brief opportunities for free play.

When it comes to play, it’s easy to lose ‘the art’ of allowing or encouraging children to ‘just play’ with their friends. Most of their play is organized through sports, dance, parties etc with parents, teachers or coaches hovering over them.

Children who are allowed to play freely learn to problem solve, mange their emotions, discover new ways to do things, use their imagination and learn to bounce back. All of these lead to less anxious, less depressed, less stressed children.


Play Creates Laughter

I love what Wayne Dyer shared in a blog post: ‘The child in you, like all children, loves to laugh, to be around people who can laugh at themselves and life. Children instinctively know that the more laughter we have in our lives, the better. They will go out of their way to linger with anyone who makes them laugh, who enjoy their jokes.’

Play Increases Achievement and Learning

As children get older and face more responsibilities at school and at home, we may start to believe that their work and tasks are more important than fun and play.

When, for example, recess was shortened, or even removed all together in an effort to maximize study time and achievements, the results proved the opposite. It was actually found to inhibit achievement and learning, which in turn decreased productivity and creativity. Several studies show that school kids pay more attention to academics after they’ve had a recess or an unstructured break where they are free to play without direction from adults. Remembering to add laughter and joy, even when doing a simple task, creates a successful pathway to achieving and learning which builds healthy well-being for ourselves and for the children in our lives.


Play Enhances Imagination

Creating time and space for play, in particular make believe and pretend, are hugely important as it allows kids to develop reasoning skills, confidence and resilience. In pretend play where imaginary worlds are created and scenarios are played out, a child can be learning or exploring how to move through experiences and emotions. This is expanded when two or more children play together, creating space to exercise self-control and resilience and if something doesn’t go their way, empathy and collaboration.

My favourite time to watch my son Kai play is when he goes into his own world, where his imagination has no bounds. I believe play, when nurtured, will be extremely helpful in the work force for creating innovative ideas, problem solving and productivity.


It’s FUN to Play!

Teaching kids/students mental well-being starts with you. You are the role model in your kids/students life. Where in your life do you put fun and happiness aside? Where are you taking things too seriously? These are questions I ask myself to remind me to incorporate play and laughter in my life every day.

If you’ve forgotten how to bring play into what you do, ask your kids/students for some advice, they’ll have fun coming up with ideas. Let’s be diligent in giving our children the opportunity to play. It is essential to creativity, happiness, resilience and mental well-being.

Until next time…