By Virginia Hrywnak, DO- Family physician, Deputy Executive Director of Healthy Learning Paths, and imperfect parent of 2 school-aged daughters
Imagine kids having unstructured, active, free play outside. What images do you see? Compare those images to what you envision after reading these words- indoors, screen time, alone, sitting. Pretty different images, right? One of our Healthy Learning Paths’ classes is “Let’s Play”- the kids love learning about how movement helps them have healthy brains, hearts, muscles, and even happy attitudes. We talk about how choosing active play is a “superpower” that kids have to be healthy.
At one of our parent programs, called “Brain Moves”, we talk about how and why movement and unstructured play has been shown to help kids learn better in school and be healthier physically, emotionally and socially. It’s amazing how fun the “motor lab” portion of the program is. It is inspiring to see a group of preschoolers and their parents taking turns pretending to “ice skate” using simple paper plates, or play “red light, green light” while pretending to be different zoo animals.
Trying to add in more active play time can be challenging with our fast-paced, often hectic, lives. Adults may also feel hesitant or even uncomfortable with the idea of “unstructured play.” Let your child take the lead. You will be amazed at how imaginative and fun the playtime becomes!
Here are some ideas to add more active play to your family’s day:
- Let kids take turns “being the DJ” and dance to a song or two. Silly dance moves are the best!
- Get outside and play those “old-fashioned” games you enjoyed as a kid- like tag, “red light- green light”, hopscotch, or capture-the-flag.
- Add a 10-15 minute walk after dinner to your daily routine, try to increase to 30 minutes over time.
- Try paper-plate “ice –skate” inexpensive, fun, and easy!
- Play a “follow- the-leader” style obstacle course- jump over the curb, run up the steps, hop on one leg around the mailbox. Take turns being the “leader.”
- Head over to the school playground after school hours and play!
- Make a straight line with painters tape (inside) or chalk (outside) and use it as a balance beam.
- Play laundry bin bean-bag toss. Don’t have bean-bags? Use a rolled up pair of socks!
- Put pillows on the floor and pretend they are a pirate ship or hot lava or…?
- Play zoo animal “hide and seek”- slither like a snake to home-base or sprint like a cheetah!
“When children pretend, they’re using their imaginations to move beyond the bounds of reality. A stick can be a magic wand. A sock can be a puppet. A small child can be a superhero.”
Fred Rogers, American children’s television host, 1928–2003