A Passion for Play

February 04, 2016

February is the time of year for professing your true love. Fittingly, I am not too shy to admit that I have a passion for play. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I spend many hours of my week at play with children. The trunk of my car is full of games, toys, and equipment like balls and cushions. I design activities to foster skills in children that have developmental delays or disorders that make learning and living more challenging for them. Surprisingly, I often have to remind parents and teachers that play is actually a child’s occupation. It is through play that they learn, use their imaginations, and problem solve. In addition, they can also enhance their muscular coordination and strength, regulate their emotions, and develop their sensory systems to understand the world around them.

Reduction in Playtime

My passion for play is a direct result of witnessing the negative effects of schools decreasing recess time. Hence, I have become an advocate for more playtime in schools. In recent years, societies have moved away from play. Now there is more concern on risk aversion, separating from nature, and succumbing to elements of modern living like increased technology. In addition, the implementation of Common Core State Standards has placed more emphasis on testing and assessment scores. This has forced schools to find more time in the day for instruction. It has led to reducing unstructured play opportunities and free time for children.

Research, however, shows unfortunate consequences have developed from trying to improve education in this way. In fact, Boston University psychologist and author, Peter Gray, has reported this. He studied the link between a sharp rise in mental disorders and the decline of free play over the last 50 years.

Play Advocacy

As more therapists and educators develop a passion for play, this important issue has more attention. Subsequently, there are more positive stories in the news. A first grade teacher in Texas recently experimented with adding more recess time during the day. Over the course of five months, she reported great results. Notably, her students were more focused, more attentive, less fidgety, and less likely to have discipline issues. I can only hope that more schools rethink their recess policies. Additionally, a return to providing more time for students to rest and reset their minds would be a great change.

I hope you find this insightful. If your child struggles with a lack of play opportunities in school, consider consulting with an occupational therapist. He or she can help to develop a plan for your home. Have a playful day!

Amy Baez, OTR/L

Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and Founder of Playapy. For more information about Playapy services and products, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

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