January 3, 2019 by Ben Dexter, MD

Did you know playing is your children’s job? Your child discovers the people and world around them by playing. As silly as it seems, babies learn from peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, tummy time and when you imitate their sounds. Then they move on to hide-and-seek, baby dolls, trucks, shape sorters, blocks, make believe, outdoor adventures and so much more!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a clinical report titled “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children.” The bottom line: Playing with parents and peers helps build thriving brains, bodies and social bonds. AAP says research shows play can improve children’s abilities to plan, organize, get along with others and regulate emotions. Play also helps with language, math, social skills and coping with stress. These are skills that last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, statistics show playtime has been declining for decades. Reasons include structured schedules, fewer safe places to play and rising screen time. Did you know the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of TV each day? Then they may be getting more screen time on other devices. 

The AAP says pediatricians may begin writing a “prescription for play” at every well-child visit through age 2. Pediatricians can also advise parents to look for child care or preschool programs that offer playful approaches to learning.

Here are some ways to play from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Birth to 6 months

  • When your baby smiles, respond with a smile of your own. Babies learn smiling gets your attention.
  • Imitate your baby’s coos and babbles.
  • Show your baby brightly colored toys. Your baby can bring safe objects to her mouth to explore textures.

7 to 12 months

  • Give your baby a safe environment to crawl and explore.
  • Let your baby learn about cause and effect. When she drops a toy, it falls to the ground.
  • Use a mirror to show your baby different facial expressions.
  • Play peek-a-boo.

1 to 3 years

  • Give your child blocks, empty containers, wooden spoons and puzzles. Simple objects can support creativity.
  • Make supervised playdates for your child.
  • Help your child try different movements such as jumping, hopping and skipping.
  • Provide opportunities for make-believe play.
  • Read to your child and encourage pretend play based on the stories.
  • Sing songs or play rhythms.

4 to 6 years

  • Let your child sing and dance.
  • Help your child move between make-believe and reality. If she is playing house, let her help you with chores.
  • Schedule playdates to help your child build friendships.
  • Encourage your child to move by hopping, swinging, climbing, running and doing somersaults.
  • Limit screen time to healthy levels. Age-appropriate media can benefit older children, but social interactions and play are much better for children than digital media for learning.

Of course, there are many more ways to play with your child. Building a snowman, sledding and making snow angels are great ways to get outside and play in our Minnesota winter. Let their interest and curiosity guide them.

Chances are you’ll find playing with your child is fun. Make time to play every day.