gmhTODAY 14 gmhToday May June 2017 - Page 51

The Importance of Child’s Play A s academic success continues to be placed in the forefront of children’s lives, good old- fashioned play is quickly disappearing from homes, neighborhoods, and even schools. Hours spent playing tag, jump- ing in leaves, rolling in grass, and host- ing toy tea parties have been replaced with screens, ear buds, flashcards, and tutors. In our effort to boost our kids’ IQs, we often overlook the value of scheduling play dates. After all, playing isn’t going to prepare our kids for the real world, right? As it turns out, that simple play date is crucial for children at every age and stage. Research findings show that since the late 1970s there has been a 25 percent drop in children’s free play and a 50 percent drop in unstructured outdoor activities. Simultaneously, reports show that today’s kids are more stressed than kids of previous generations and their mental health has plunged to a 25-year all-time low. These findings are more than just a coincidence. When kids engage in self-directed play it has an immense impact on their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical growth. It lets them work off any anxiety or stress they’re experiencing and it actually increases their ability to focus and pay attention in school. Above all, it forges joyful memories that your kids can look back on and it helps shape how they view the world. So when is the best age for kids to have play dates? Any age, really. Even infants absorb the interests and feelings of those around them, and the great thing about baby play dates is that they don’t require anything fancy or expensive. At that age, having a chat with your friend over coffee or taking a walk through the park counts as a play date. While you have a pleasant outing with your friends, your baby will be taking in all the sights and sounds that will help stimulate her mind. Play dates are especially beneficial for toddlers a