Let's PLAY: The power and benefits of engaging in play

"Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold." - Joseph Chilton Pearce

"Go outside and play." Those were the instructions many of us were given as children, and we took those orders seriously and moved swiftly out the door. What felt like minutes in kid time were really hours of engaging in all types of fun, unstructured play with family members and neighborhood friends. 

Let's face it; children of the 21st century do not play like we used to, and for numerous reasons. Neighborhoods may feel less safe. Recess may be cut out of the school curriculum in attempt to allowing for more instructional time. And speaking of time, families can have their schedules so full that there is very little, if any time left over for creative and unstructured free play. 

As a mother and former elementary school teacher, it truly breaks my heart to see unstructured, creative play disappear before our very eyes, and it's having a profound impact on our children. Yes, the rate of childhood obesity has skyrocketed over the years, and many credit that to lack of physical activity that play brings. But there is also a hidden price our children are paying. In a New York Times article titled "Taking Play Seriously," Robin Marantz Henig sheds light on the importance of play with the following statement:

Scientists who study play, in animals and humans alike, are developing a consensus view that play is something more than a way for restless kids to work off steam; more than a way for chubby kids to burn off calories; more than a frivolous luxury. Play, in their view, is a central part of neurological growth and development — one important way that children build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains.

Indeed, play is a fundamental part of life. It is in moments of play that you see children truly come alive to discover the world around them. Their five senses are awakened as they learn the arts of trust, empathy and many other social skills that are vital to being a productive citizen and all around good person. Isn't that what we all want for our children?

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of room for all sorts of play including structured activities like soccer and gymnastics, and the use of technology to play games and engage in learning activities. However, as parents, it's so important for us to not underestimate the value of free, unstructured and creative play. Perhaps one of the largest benefits of engaging in free play is self-regulation is learned and strengthened. Self-regulation is "the ability to control one's emotions and behavior." Whenever our children are engaged in free play such as make believe, they are using private speech (silently explaining what they are doing as they go through the motions). This is when self-regulation is learned and strengthened. Researchers have found that self regulation is a greater predictor of a child's academic success than his or her IQ. 

Today's economy is in desperate need of innovators and future innovators need play! Frog design's principle designer, Laura Seargeant Richardson once said, "Play is the greatest natural resource in a creative economy," and I couldn't agree with her more! Thankfully, The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative is taking play seriously. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative is a group of individuals and regional organizations who works to educate decision-makers (from parents to legislators) on the importance of play, while raising awareness that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. 

The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative is putting its advocacy into action by modeling and inspiring innovative play at the 3rd Annual Ultimate Play Day. This FREE event will feature activities that have been carefully selected as ones that can be replicated at home, in school, and at our neighborhood park. This celebration will also introduce community members to playful organizations such as The Carnegie Museum of Art, The Saturday Light Brigade, Kids Plus Pediatrics, PAEYC, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and many more! It is my hope that this event will spark conversations and inspiration for families to find more time for play, know it's value and connect with organizations that provide plenty of affordable opportunities to PLAY! I hope to see you there!

Ultimate Play Day
April 26th from 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Burgwin Park, Hazelwood

For more information about the Ultimate Play Day or the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, visit our website athttp://www.playfulpittsburgh.org