Published on January 5, 2011, a recent New York Times article draws attention to the importance of imaginative play in child development. As children become increasingly scheduled with extracurricular activities and schools reduce time for play in order to prepare for tests, finding time for creative play often falls on busy parents. American children ages 8 to 18 spend 7 hours and 38 minutes a day looking at television, computer and video game screens, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Additionally, only one in five children live within walking distance of a playground or park, contributing to the rise in childhood obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The article also describes the important skills, such as impulse control, problem solving and teamwork, learned through classic games such as Simon Says and building forts. Parents can encourage creative play by providing more unstructured time and limiting screen time. The article notes the value of spaces set aside for play and the mess that comes with it, as well as toys that inspire creative play such as blocks and dress-up supplies.
Schubert Center faculty associate Sandra Russ studies the role of pretend play in child development and in child psychotherapy. “It is important to educate parents about the importance of children’s play – especially pretend play,” says Dr. Russ, “Parents should enjoy their child’s play and provide time and space for play. Children are not ‘wasting time’ when they play.”
In New York City, a recent event, called the Ultimate Block Party and supported by the National Science Foundation, attracted 50,000 people to Central Park with games such as I Spy, puzzles and sidewalk chalk. Dr. Roberta Golinkoff and Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, founders of the event, are now working to create similar events in other cities and to make the New York event an annual gathering.
Organizations such as KaBOOM! and Creative Play Plus encourage creative play. KaBOOM! helps parents identify local areas to play and provides tools for parents and community members to fundraise and build playscapes in their area. Creative Play Plus, written by several Cleveland area child educators and sponsored by Step2, provides information about the benefits of creative play and provides ideas for caregivers for inspiring creative play in children.