With national statistics showing a threefold increase in childhood obesity from 1980 to 2010 and with concerns about the time that children spend playing computer games, parents and teachers are interested in creating more opportunities for children to engage in active and imaginative play. Child psychologists too have noted detrimental effects in children who spend too much time watching TV. These concerns highlight the need for parents and others to encourage children to spend more of their time in creative play.
What is Creative Play?
Creativity or imaginative play provides time when a child, by himself or with others, plays without the structure or close adult supervision routinely provide by schools or organised sports. Such activities as making up games or stories to act out, playing games from real-life like school or office, creating props and costumes for games, and projects that require creativity such as making picture books or extended paintings are all examples of creative play. These activities encourage memory skills, mental flexibility and self-control.
Benefits of Creative Play
Researcher Deborah Leong, a professor of psychology and director of a creative play project at Metropolitan State College of Denver, believes that creative play builds something called "executive function," a mental skill that teaches children a number of important skills: how to improve memory, increase flexible thinking, control emotions and resist impulsive behaviour. Moreover, creative play with other children gives each child an opportunity to practice these mind-expanding and self-regulating skills.
Risks of Uncreative Play
Children with weak executive function skills are at greater risk of dropping out of school, using drugs, and being involved in crime. Risks are even higher if other activities take the place of creative play. Experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics have found that children who spend more than one or two hours each day watching TV or playing video games are more likely to have sleeping and attention problems, to be overweight and to have lower levels of academic success.
Programs Supporting Creative Play
Tool of the Mind, a program used by numerous preschools and private schools, uses the concepts of creative play and executive function throughout the day. Children are asked to think ahead and imagine what they want to do when they're dismissed for recess. Allow them to think imaginatively, work together and find ways to cooperate without direct teacher supervision. Teachers assist children in developing plans as needed and help children communicate with each other.
How to Encourage Creative Play
Parents can encourage creative, imaginative play both at home and at school. Ask questions and make recommendations to school officials about recess activities or provide opportunities for pretend play at home by suggesting that children create a play or play at a pretend life scenario. To be effective, creative play needs sustained concentration---children should be encouraged to work through problems and keep at the activity for an extended period of time.
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