Real play – what it is and why it’s important

We live in an age of technology. There are gadgets and electronics that can do everything from making chores easier to entertaining our kids.

It is not unusual for children as young as 12 months to know how to pick up and use an iPad. While this can be good – there are a lot of educational apps and ways of learning with an iPad – it is important we don’t forget the value of real play for children.

What is real play?

Real play is free range, unstructured playtime for children. It often involves getting outside and letting the imagination run free. It can also involve getting dirty and messy, something some parents may baulk at. All of those germs! Clothes ruined by mud! Fair points, but the benefits of real play outweigh the extra washing and as for germs, it has been proven that dirt can actually strengthen immune systems.

So in short, real play is basically how people used to play – before technology and scheduled activities took over.

In a recent survey by OMO, it was discovered that children between the age of 5-12 only spend one hour per day on real play. This is only one-third of the amount of time their parents spent playing when they were little.

Most daycares and pre schools understand the importance of real play, and as such allow a considerable amount of time in the day for children to run and play outside, without any strict rules on what they should be doing with that time. The kids are able to use this time to interact with one another and let their imaginations run wild. Sometimes the play gets dirty, but with a good child care cleaner on service this isn’t a problem at all.

Why is real play important?

Gadgets and technology are great and can be used for a lot of educational purposes. They can also make life easier. We certainly aren’t against the use of electronics, but the point is more to remember the benefits of real play for our children while they are learning and growing up. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Uses all senses
Using an iPad or smart phone for educational apps is great but there are just some things that can’t be replaced by technology. Smell, taste and touch can only be experienced by jumping off the electronics and getting involved in the real world. Exploring outside allows children to experience nature with all of their senses. It isn’t just the sights and sounds of what is around them, it is also the understanding of different terrains and textures that will help them learn. As children run, jump, chase and play, they will be learning how to navigate grass, concrete, rocks and sand. In doing so, they will learn the differences of these textures when they run on them, sit on them or even fall on them. Real play allows children to be in a three dimensional world and will give them the skills needed to navigate it.

  1. Creates interpersonal skills
As anyone who has had a child would know, sharing is something that needs to be taught and learned. And this can only really be learned when a child is socialising and playing with real humans and not an app. In a setting such as a daycare or pre school, children get to interact not only with their peers but also their teachers and educators. They will learn to take it in turns, to compete, to empathise and to have conversations. They may also learn to negotiate and to understand when the answer is no. During real play, a child is not only using their own imagination but they are exposed to others imaginations as well, opening up a whole new world to them.

  1. Developing fine motor skills and coordination
Unlike holding onto an iPad or smart phone, a child can use so many more muscles and parts of their bodies when let loose to play. Picking small flowers in the garden, kicking a ball to a friend, balancing on wooden beams at pre school – all of these things require coordination, especially hand-eye coordination, as well as balance and fine motor skills. They also require a child to think in a problem-solving way. Want to practice balancing? First you need to work out how to get on the beam. Or want to move sand to the other side of the pit for a castle you are building? First you need to find something that will pick up and transport the sand for you.

  1. Learning consequences
This point can be a scary thing for many parents. People naturally want to protect their children from being hurt or disappointed, and can see a potential threat ten paces away. But the truth is, sometimes children need to learn some things for themselves. Tripping over a stick in the backyard, falling against a hard tree trunk, discovering you aren’t the fastest runner out of your friends – all of these actions have consequences that every child needs to learn about as part of life.

It is easy to simply tell a child not to do something, but there is no better lesson than for a child to work out for themselves why they shouldn’t do it.

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