February 2016

  • A Passion for Play

    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 plan
    for your home. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    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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