As a kid, you may have been like me - spending as many hours as you could outdoors, playing tag with the neighbors, exploring the wilderness, finding bugs under rocks, rolling down hills. Maybe you’d spend so long outside that each night your parents would have to call you back inside before the sun went down!
Sadly, these days, the sight of children frolicking outdoors isn’t so common. Now it’s more common to see young children engrossed in the screens of tablets, phones, and video games - or if they don’t have one, reaching for those of their parents.
There's no denying that digital play is taking the world by storm, but it’s important that kids get non-digital play as well.
What’s so special about non-digital play?
Playing on a screen can have its benefits. You’re able to communicate with vast numbers of people quite quickly, you’re able to learn about anything and everything, and you can save data much easier, sometimes, than trying to find a pen.
Unfortunately, digital play has its drawbacks.
- Immersing yourself in screens for more than an hour a day can lead to the development of eye problems.
- Learning things via screen time isn’t as effective as learning otherwise. Reading on a smartphone has a statistically lower chance of being retained long-term.
- Screens can deceptively convince the user, through text messaging and social media platforms, that they’re being social. Really, they’re losing the chance to develop social skills.
It’s not just important for your kids not to use screens in excess, though. Play is vital for the development of a child’s brain, and it’s important to do so in a non-digital way.
- Non-digital play encourages kids to engage with other kids. This helps them develop social skills which they won’t be able to develop otherwise.
- Playing outdoors encourages kids to learn about themselves.
- Exploring in a forest teaches kids about their interests and could potentially help them develop their first hobbies. If they reach for a stick and hit pinecones, maybe they’re a future baseball star. If they stand by a river and look for fish, then they should develop a wildlife related hobby.
- Playing without the use of screens help kids develop the capacity to learn properly. It’s important for children to explore all sorts of different aspects of life so their brains develop the proper networks and connections for further learning.
Doesn’t school encourage kids to play outside?
You can’t rely on the school system to encourage your kids to play without the use of screens. In fact, you should do the opposite - make sure they get time away from school for non-digital play.
- More and more schools are becoming reliant on computers and even tablets for instruction, which can cause children to develop digital habits that aren’t helpful.
- While most schools provide a recess and lunch break for kids, most schools don’t have any rules against kids using cell phones or tablets during these breaks. If your kid doesn’t have a device, they may flock towards those who do.
Schools may encourage children to play outside, but in practice, this is much different. They’re not around all hours of the day to make sure your kids aren’t glued to screens - this duty falls on the parent.
How long should kids engage in non-digital play?
Non-digital play is important for kids of all ages - and adults as well. Our modern, business-related lifestyles seem to try and convince us that play is something reserved for kids, but it’s a very important aspect of stress-reduction and overall happiness.
- It’s most important for kids to play during their early childhood. This is the age at which their brain is developing the fastest.
- If they constantly engage with other children instead of screens, conversations and physical interactions help their brains prepare for the rest of their lives.
- Their brain will develop neural networks that will help guide them through social situations for the rest of their lives.
- While early childhood is the most important stage for children to play, you should encourage them to do so all throughout childhood. The brain continues to grow up until early adulthood, and after that, continues to learn and develop new mechanisms.
- Playing with or without children helps kids learn about themselves and how they respond to their world. It’s unhealthy for a kid to face teenagehood without understanding how they relate to their surroundings.
Play is hardly the silly, unimportant waste of time that many people are led to believe through the corporate influence of our lives. In fact, play helps guide us through life and helps teach us where we stand in relation to other people and situations.
It might not seem like a life or death situation, but the knowledge kids learn from playing may very well save them from one in the future.