WHAT HAPPENED TO PLAY?
No, I’m not talking about the other half of the hip-hop duo Kid ‘n Play. Do you remember back in the day when we really PLAYED on the playground? We had competitions where we would swing as high as we could, until the chain jerked of course, and then proceeded to see just how far we could fling ourselves out of that swing. We had monkey bars that we would walk atop of and hang upside down from, and we had merry-go-rounds where 20 kids would pile on, 2 unfortunate souls did the running and pushing, until all were ready to blow chunks. We could all skip, hop scotch, double-dutch and of course sing the full song of “Big Mac, Filet- O -Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fry”, while we were simultaneously performing very complex hand claps with our BFF. It is unfortunate that kids today just don’t play this way anymore. Between liability and technology, we have completely changed our play behavior. “Outside” is no longer a cool place to be. “Inside”, in the air conditioning, with the Xbox and the iPad are much higher on the list.
You might think, what's the big deal? Does it really change the quality of my child’s life to have never hung upside down on the monkey bars? Although I would unequivocally say, “yes”, it is much more than that. The way that we develop certain sensory systems, such as our body awareness (proprioception) and our inner ear (vestibular system), is through normal movement and play. When we swing, hang, push/pull, spin, slide, roll, wrestle, jump, fall, we develop certain areas of our brain and nervous system that help give us a right read on our world. Our bodies must be exposed to this type of movement to fully organize our brains and mature our central nervous system, giving us the foundation for all future learning.
If we over parent our children and alter their environment so much as to try and insure that they will never fall and get hurt, their little sensory systems will suffer greatly. I am a physical therapist and have certainly seen tons of nasty injuries from careless, unwise activity, so I am certainly not endorsing that. However, we need to let our children be children and allow then to play normally. We need to let them push their limits ever so slightly and be willing to let them fall down a bit. The amount of sensory input back to a child’s brain when they do what we call “climb and crash” behavior is an absolute necessity. This is how a child learns what their limits are in the first place. A child needs to jump off something just a tad too high and think “Uh, that was a little too high,”
Children need to move and they need to move a lot. We need to put our babies down on the floor and let them creep and crawl and we need to send our older children outside to play. I don’t think that gaming systems are inherently bad for our children, but when your child always has this choice, what is your child NOT doing that is really nourishing for their body AND their brain. There is no judgement here. I am the first to admit that there have certainly been numerous days that I have over utilized technology just to keep my sanity as a Mom of three. These things are tools and are great additions when used in moderation. But sometimes we as humans intervene a little too much. Let your child move and play naturally as they would without technology. Let them get bored, use their imaginations and figure out how to entertain themselves like we used to do. Their brains and bodies intuitively know what they need and they will do it automatically if we will just let them. This creates a child with a coordinated body and an organized brain that gives them a foundation and love for both moving and learning that we just can’t separate.
Tiffany Higginbotham is a Physical Therapist and co-owner of NeuroKinetic Solutions, LLC and co-founder of Brain Pump™. She is also the owner of Body Logic PT & Wellness, LLC.