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3 Natural Ways To Enhance Your Child’s Play - Engaging Your Kid’s Inborn Stages Of Activity

It’s no secret that an American child’s average physical playtime has been experiencing an exponential decline in the expanding technological decades. This infographic from playgroundequipment.com spells out the severity of the situation clearly. Kids need to play, more than ever before.

Indeed, the barriers to helping your child find value in play can seem daunting. In today’s world of information overload, getting outside can seem foreign to many kids.

Here at The Backyard Guys, we love providing playground environments that get your kids moving together. Yet, as a parent, you have the power to capitalize on these play spaces when you understand how to nurture and invite the natural stages of play your child was born to experience.

You’ve probably wondered: How can I help my child’s play time count for the most? Is it enough to just let them outside more often? Should I just limit technology?

These are all valid concerns that we’ve found many of our customers are encountering when they are looking to purchase a play space with us. That brings us to our philosophy of building a good play space. It’s formed from offering environments that help children move through the natural born cycles of play.

For this piece, we’ve condensed the work of two longtime researchers of play, Mildred Parten and Sara Smilanskly into 3 core ways you can help cultivate your child’s natural born states of play.

1. Cultivate age specific play

Based on the above researchers , children have been proven to play in certain ways naturally as they grow. As a parent, you can recognize these rhythms from day one, and design your outdoor play spaces to draw out these states of play in your child and their playmates.

Specifically, age specific play styles can be broken down into the following:

  • Infants – Solitary, functional play.
  • Toddlers – Parallel, functional play.
  • Preschoolers – Associative, constructive and dramatic play.
  • 4 and 5 year olds – Cooperative, constructive, dramatic and rule based game play.
  • Kindergarten - Cooperative, constructive, socio-dramatic and rule based game play

We’ll talk more about these types of play in the following points. Overall, it’s important to note that encouraging your child to adapt to natural age specific states of play as they grow is crucial. In today’s device driven world, many parents may find their 5 year olds glued to their tablets rather than engaging in their surroundings. These are the kinds of cases where providing outdoor play spaces can help fill a natural void your child is longing to experience, they just may not know where to go looking.

2. Provide a place to play with others

Our researchers have shown us that play should move to a shared experience at some point in a child’s growth. The initial solitary stages of infancy and early into pre-school are often natural and usually end with children becoming onlookers of other children playing. From our researchers observations, we can see communal play beginning to express itself at the pre-school to kindergarten stages in three spheres:

  • Parallel Play – Children playing next to each other without verbal interaction.
  • Associative Play – Verbal interaction with some effort to organize play together.
  • Cooperative play – Each child taking action to structure play by working together.

Considering play only gets more social as we grow older, it’s important to create physical spaces where your child can enjoy this kind of interaction. If your play space is at home in your backyard, are you making the effort to invite other nearby children to play in it? Is it play space that encourages collaboration, adventure and imagination? Can children accomplish tasks together in your play space?

The concept of regularly inviting more kids into your play space may seem forlorn considering we value privacy almost too much at times in many families. Yet, this perspective can change, especially when we know our children will be stimulated naturally if given the chance to exercise these stages of play with others.

3. Play often

Undoubtedly, your child’s schedule may seem as demanding as your own life at times. Yet, in an effort to make your kid an all-star, you can actually be depriving them of important time and space to just be a kid. And that’s where frequency of play comes in. As adults, we know we have to schedule playtime for our own sanity. So are you doing the same for your kids? Are you helping them turn off the screen and put on their shoes? Are you exposing them to social situations where they can experience working with others in ways that only come natural? This regularity isn’t just to help insure their physical health; it has important cognitive and emotional impact on them in the classroom.

Many schools now face increasing pressures to push more kids to reach standardized testing quotas. Consequently, it’s likely your child could already not be getting the play they need in school to energize them mentally for the classroom.

One Oakland, CA organization, Play Works, recognizes this common misunderstanding about play in public schools and is championing the mental benefits that regular play brings into a child’s development. If this effort is holding true for urban inner city kids, then making your backyard an extension of the schoolyard will only serve your kids for the better.