Research has shown spontaneous play is crucial to the early development of children.
Fort Macleod Early Child Development Coalition is embarking on a new project to make sure children have the chance to play.
“We are really finding that children don’t have opportunities for spontaneous play any more,” coalition co-ordinator Kathy Karchuk said.
To address the situation, the coalition will host Family Play Time from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Thursday, Jan. 30 at W.A. Day school.
Twelve trained local facilitators will staff play centres for children aged five years and under, sharing information on different forms and the value of play.
“We had all kinds of chances to practice adult skills in a really safe setting, and to develop those skills so they were in place,” Karchuk said of an earlier time.
Studies show unstructured play is important in the early child development and builds a foundation for formal learning and success in school.
Social skills, emotional self-control, compassion, empathy, confidence, creativity, scientific reasoning, problem-solving abstract thinking and motor development are all fostered by play.
“All of those things that when parents aren’t around to sort of take over and solve it, that we have to figure out on our own,” Karchuk said.
Many children spend their days in structured care and educational settings and their indoor and outdoor recreational activities are carefully constructed and monitored.
More time spent in front of screens — television, computer and video games — has also meant children spend less time in spontaneous, unstructured play.
“When you think of sitting in front of a screen there is no what the experts call serve and return, where I say something to you, you say something back, we interact, we share ideas, we exchange thoughts,” Karchuk said. “It’s a very passive activity to sit in front of a screen.”
“We’re not practising our verbal skills, we’re not practicing taking turns even. We’re not even practicing listening to someone else’s opinion,” Karchuk added. “Screen time is huge, especially socially.”
The value of play is so important, it has been enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
At Family Play Time, the 12 trained facilitators will each have a bin filled with activities that encourage spontaneous play that helps develop a specific skill.
“Our newly-trained people are going to talk to parents as they come through with their little ones about the importance and value of play, and how play actually lays the foundation for formal learning,” Karchuk said.
The early development instrument, a survey done with all Kindergarten-aged children in Fort Macleod, indicates a high percentage of children are lacking in general knowledge and communication skills.
“Our hope is that these bins of play materials to build skills will address some of those areas we need to work on,” Karchuk said.
The coalition will later do more workshops in Fort Macleod and will loan out the bins to parents and play groups.
“We’re really hoping we’re going to get a good turnout because we’ve got some good people (trainers) who are passionate about it,” Karchuk said.
To register for Family Play Time call Kathy Karchuk at 403-553-3781.