A Passion for Play

February 04, 2016
passion for play, heart

February is the time of year for professing your true love, and I am not too shy to admit that one of my greatest passions is 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, problem solve, enhance their muscular coordination and strength, regulate their emotions, and develop their sensory systems to understand the world around them.

My passion for play is a direct result of witnessing the negative effects of schools decreasing recess time for young children. Hence, I have become an advocate for more playtime in schools. In recent years, societies have moved away from play by placing more concern on risk aversion, separating from nature, and succumbing to elements of modern living like increased technology. In addition, the implementation of policies like No Child Left Behind has placed more emphasis on testing and assessment scores. This has forced schools to find more time in the day for instruction, which 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 studied the link between a sharp rise in mental disorders and the decline of free play over the last 50 years.

As more therapists and educators become passionate about play advocacy, more attention is brought to this important issue. Subsequently there are more positive stories in the news including a 1st grade teacher in Texas who recently experimented with adding more recess time during the day. Over the course of five months, she reported 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 and return to providing more time for students to rest and reset their minds.

I hope you find this insightful. If your child struggles with a lack of play opportunities in school, consider consulting with an occupational therapist to develop a planor 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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