As a school counselor, I often contemplate the appropriate balance between play, extracurricular activities, and academics for our students. All these forms of enrichment activities build self-confidence and provide our children the essential skills and pleasure that they need to be happy and to create a balanced child. Play is also extremely important to a child’s human development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Play offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children and join in the fun. Play is so important to a healthy child’s development that educators and parents may want to prioritize this essential activity in children’s daily lives.
Despite the benefits for children, time for free play has been diminished over the years. Less play, including a long list of extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons, tutoring, etc., has reduced time for our students to relax and engage in their own introspective creativity. Moreover, higher academic expectations, rigorous daily routines, and enrichment activities for some students create challenges for finding time to play. Parents and educators are seeking a way to strike a happy medium in children's lives to create the optimal balance between academic, social, personal, and play time.
Academic enrichment opportunities are vital for our children. A solid education prepares our students for a successful adulthood and a fruitful future in the job market. Students’ ability to progress academically and participate in organized activities is known to promote healthy development. Play allows students to use their creativity while developing their imagination, physical, cognitive, and emotional vigor. Furthermore, play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play is integral to the academic environment. It has been shown to help students adjust to the school setting and even to enhance students’ learning readiness, learning behaviors, helps form friendships, and develops problem-solving skills. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is best integrated with academic learning. Play and unscheduled time that allows for peer interactions are important components of SEL.
Nothing is as natural as a child at play. Communicating through play with peers and parents joining their children in games and play are essential in cultivating the emotional wellbeing of our students. Play should also be scheduled into a student’s day; thus, students have time to relax, unwind, imagine, and just be a kid. Play also has a vital social drive and is the language that children speak and how they often make friends and socialize. Free play isn’t just something students like to do, it’s something they need to do. Play teaches students how to work together and, at the same time, how to be alone. It teaches them how to be authentic, creative, imaginative, and work with others. All our students’ activities are critical in fostering their self-esteem and academic success. If play time can be incorporated into a child’s daily routine with other very important hobbies, interests, and activities, I do believe our students will be happier, more grounded, and will have more fun each and every day.
Dr. Ben Fishman is the elementary school counselor at Concordia International School.