Focus on Families

Encourage kids to put down screens and play

Sharon Loper
Sharon Loper

Jean Piaget, the famous Swiss developmental psychologist, said play is the work of the child.

In this era of technology, many of us don’t realize how important it is for children to put down their screens and play. Research shows that without play, we are bypassing the most critical building blocks in child development. At birth, a normal child’s brain is 25 percent developed; by the age of 3, 80 percent; and by 5 years it is 90 percent developed. There is a small window of time for us to invest in what is needed to stimulate children’s brains and help them grow on a physical, emotional and developmental level.

Georgia Bozeday, Ed.D., director of the Rush Neurobehavioral Center in Chicago, tells us that “participation in play is necessary for growth.” When play is replaced with technology, she says, children miss out on developing imagination, observation, communication, social action and fine and gross motor skills. They also lose sleep. I would add that excessive screen time also promotes isolation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for ages 3-18, with none for children 2 and under. Children need to use manipulatives in order to grow brains, muscles and social skills.

Maria Marinakis, Ed.M., a child and family therapist known for her website, tells us that play helps connect parents with their children. Small children need face time where they learn how to read emotions through facial expressions, body language and tonal changes. Play is more than just fun; it enhances mental health by helping children form relationships where they can learn from exploring. Social skills are taught through play, such as taking turns, negotiating, dealing with and recovering from disappointment, failing and learning from failure. Pretend play translates into real life. Children learn through repetition, laying a foundation for further learning.

What to look for in play

Seek toys or games you can break down to the simplest components for the younger child. Use vocabulary to enrich language. Use descriptive words.

Since good problem solving comes from imaginative play, look for open ended toys and games. Most children like to make up their own rules.

Peter Gray, Ph.D., author of “Freedom to Learn,” says, “You can’t teach creativity, all you do is let it blossom and it blossoms in play.”

And David Elkind, Ph.D., author of “The Hurried Child,” says, “The more children learn from their own play when they are young, the better prepared they are to learn from academic instruction when they are older.”

So put down those screens, have some fun and go play.

Resources on the importance of play:

Sharon Loper, a former Montessori educator, is a special needs paraprofessional in Tucson and a Discovery Toys representative.