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Play is important to children’s developing brains

Unstructured play is vital to the development of a healthy child, a Fort Macleod audience heard last week.
Dr. Robbin Gibb, a University of Lethbridge researcher and professor, gave a presentation Wednesday on the importance of play.
“Enough time has passed since the bad old days of believing that play was a waste of time,” Gibb said.
Gibb’s presentation at W.A. Day school was sponsored by the Fort Macleod Early Child Development coalition.
Gibb said play in all its forms contributes to the development of a healthy brain in young children.
“We’re starting to get a bigger insight into how important play is,” Gibb said. “It really, truly is not a waste of time.”
“Unfortunately, we have to teach people that play is one of the most valuable things that we can engage in our lives, no matter how old you are.”
Gibb defined play as:

  • Having no predetermined outcome or purpose.
  • Play is bold, allowing people to do things they would not normally do.
  • Play creates bliss.
  • Play occurs spontaneously.
  • Play is driven by our curiosity and our need to explore.

Gibb noted that it makes a difference with whom you play, as well as how much you play.
Some play is physical, vigorous, and rough and tumble. This helps them develop motor skills and build strength and endurance.
“Children, especially boys, look for this kind of play,” Gibb said. “this kind of play is fabulous for brain development.”
Toddlers need three hours of this “big body” play each day.
Play is also social, constructive, imaginative and can help children understand rules.
Gibb also spoke of the importance of play given the amount of screen time children experience today.
Studies indicate the average preschooler has 2.4 to 4.6 hours of screen time each day.
“Children are fascinated by this,” Gibb said. “particularly they are because their moms are, and their dads are.”
The increasing presence of screen time in a child’s life is borne out by 40 per cent of the top-selling educational apps being developed for children under the age of four.
Ninety per cent of children have watched television before they reach their second birthday.
Thirty-nine per cent of all parents surveyed admit to watching six or more hours of television each day.
Television watching has a negative impact on a young child’s vocabulary.
Gibb noted that physical activity has a positive impact on a child’s academic performance.
Playing outside in green space serves to reduce the stress hormone in children.
“It’s a double whammy,” Gibb said of active play. “It helps you with your learning and it helps you control your stress.”
Social play helps children develop their observation skills, learn to co-operate with others, and play alone.
Object play leads children to learn how things work and problem-solving abilities begin to emerge.
There is no limit to the benefits of play.
“We do know that humans are designed to play throughout life,” Gibb said. “We unlearn how to play as we get older. We have to stop that.”
“We should never stop. It’s good for us all through our lives.”