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The Power of Play – Kids Need To Experience The Joy Of Free Play

“Go outside and play.” We say it all the time because we know our kids need to run around and experience the joy of free play. Their whole lives are structured to some degree and let’s face it, most of the time that is a good thing. Kids get a sense of security from knowing what comes next. Before a child can tell time, it’s useful to know that bedtimes comes after bath time and that nap time comes after lunch. Before they understand the calendar, it’s a big help to discover that Thanksgiving arrives after we are done with Halloween. No doubt about it, structure and routine help a lot in bringing up our children.

The thing is, too much of anything can be counter-productive. Ice cream is amazing and I hope I’ll never outgrow the delight of a soft-serve cone on a summer’s day. Even so, one cone is a treat, ten cones is a symptom. I think the same goes for most of the things that we do. That’s why free play is crucial to balance the otherwise completely structured and scheduled day of the average human being of any age.

As parents, we recognize that. We strive for balance in our own lives and so we naturally offer it to our children. How wonderful. “Go and play.” Play is powerful. Play helps a child imagine, dream, plan and literally stretch and grow. Play teaches us the fine art of learning to laugh at ourselves. (What a life skill!) It teaches us the joy of making and even keeping new friends. It gives us occasions to face our fears and prevail. To discover that we are stronger than we thought and that our friends believe in us.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure could use a little more of that. There is nothing like playing with wild abandon, to make you feel young again. Seriously, when was the last time you slid down a slide? Just so you know, they are higher than you remember and now most of them twist and turn. How about going on a swing? It’s like a rocking chair, but way more fun.

I am proud and a little embarrassed to say that I’m not just suggesting something I would never do; I am just letting you know what routinely works for me. Play lifts you up and play with your children does so much to show them that you value being with them. It’s just different than showing your love through an inventive new way hide vegetables in brownies. (Which, by the way, you can add a veggie puree of almost any sweet veggie to the batter. Stealth health baby.)

The hardest part of treating yourself to this particular fountain of youth is getting out of your own way. These days, the only bully on the playground that you have to confront, is the annoying voice in your own head. You know, the one who says you would look ridiculous on the swings, or playing tag is the best way you know to get in touch with your inner shin splints.

What we all used to love to do has sadly become somewhat off limits now that we need it the most. This is a tough time in history. People are experiencing more stress and suffering the effects of great anxiety. I think our kids may not be the only ones who need to blow off some steam. Play is free, fun and readily available anywhere you bring your smile and a twinkle in your eye.

You know it would mean the world to a child who asks the three little words that make us feel flattered and guilty all at once. “Play with me?” Take a moment to indulge yourself in the grateful and even a little surprised look from your little one, when you say three truly wonderful words in response. “I’d love to.”

The belly laughs, flushed cheeks and happy memories that follow will not only build a stronger bond with your child; you will get to know yourself a whole lot better. Maybe you are more fearless than you realized, or maybe your imagination is yearning for some more silliness. Of all the creams, lotions and procedures available, nothing is as effective at anti-aging, not to mention quite as powerful, as play. It helps your child grow up and it keeps you young. Don’t cheat yourself, play is still too much fun to be anything less than a top priority for the whole family.

Marilynn Halas is the founder of 4Sunflowers Media, a company committed to empowering children and parents through stories, books and online community. 4 Sunflowers was built on the premise that childhood is messy, loud… and magnificently human. Like us on Facebook and get your very own free “I’m Not Afraid of the Dark” kit