Inside: There’s a place for both being entertained and learning to play independently. Learn the difference and how to make sure your kids are independent in play.
There’s a time and place for both playing and entertaining, but it’s important we consider the benefits of both so we can have them in proper balance in our homes.
I took a walk the other day with my daughter. I was trying to get my steps up somewhere at least near 7,000 for the days (since I got a Fitbit to avoid Blogger Booty) and she was just trying… well… to play.
We picked flowers for my grandmother, threw sticks in the pond, talked about nature, and exercised a little.
And along the way, we played.
It got me thinking about how much my kids play. How often they play. Where they play, and what they like to do when they are playing.
And I suddenly felt so glad they are used to playing together most of the day. Even when the squeals and screams threaten my sanity. I’m so glad their go to source of fun is playing together, not being entertained by myself or a screen.
Psychology today says play is:
- Play is self-chosen and self-directed,
- Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends,
- Play has structure, or rules, which are not dictated by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players,
- Play is imaginative, non-literal, mentally removed in some way from “real” or “serious” life, and
- Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind. (source)
For this post, being entertained is:
- Watching television or movies,
- Playing on the tablet (some games are both play and entertainment),
- When the mom or carer is the central figure in the play,
- Participating in crafts or activities with specific end goals, and
- Having a day completely structured by the carer with no time for free play.
Why Play Should Be Prioritized Over Being Entertained
There’s obviously a place for entertainment in life and in the home, but I’m going to build a case on why I think that entertainment should fall further down the list than play.
Keep reading, for the times and situations in which both are appropriate and beneficial.
1. Play is active, not passive.
Play is an active state. When kids play they think, move, act, sing, talk, jump, run, and interact. Even if they are playing alone they are actively and presently engaging in their game.
During playtime, play is what’s happening. They are learning, building their decision-making skills, learning about cause and effect, and activating their imagination.
A new and ever growing body of research is showing that ways in which we use our brain while young sort of “solidify” as we get older. Meaning, the brain remembers the most used pathways, and those become the “default.”
In these early years, it’s imperative we let our kids play. We give them opportunities to actively engage their minds, not just passively. Of course there’s a place for being entertained, but the amount of entertainment received shouldn’t be comparable to the amount of play they enter in.
2. Play builds skill by experience.
I love letting my kids go out and play alone (in the fenced in area of our yard we called the “play pen”) and they learn many things. They learn that shoveling dirt onto other’s heads is all fun and games until someone shovels dirt on your head.
The other morning the older three kids were outside playing and my husband and I saw them. They were standing inside this massive tractor tire, holding hands, and walking around in circles singing “ring around the rosies.”
When they finished, instead of falling, they’d climb up on the tire and walk around it balancing.
While playing kids may learn to build things, balance, practice their problem-solving (like when my daughter pops Barbie’s leg out of socket which occurs, in my opinion, because you cannot have legs that long in hips that narrow) they think of new alternatives when Plan A is foiled.
They will build their fine and gross motor skills, absorb information by reading, build their interpersonal and relational skills, learn to handle disappointment, and many other things. People remember situations they’ve lived through personally.
Entertainment may seek to teach these lessons, but if a child does not have ample time to put these concepts into practice, the lessons learned won’t stick. This is, ahem, why math homework exists.
There are certain activities teachers or parents may do with kids that do teach skills and have an end goal in mind, and these are great! But I recently read in this book (and tend to agree) that a parent’s job is to give kids the opportunity and materials to learn, and then let them go.
3. Play is fun, but not addictive.
There’s also an increasing body of literature suggesting that screen time (just one form of entertainment) is not only a hindrance to proper development, but it’s also addictive.
When you turn off the TV, do your kids fight it? Is their first instinct always to reach for the tablet or turn on the TV? If so, why not add in more time for free play in their day and let the screen time be an extra. I’ve personally found my kids whine a lot more when they watch TV.
4. Play helps kids think for themselves.
Kids who never learn to play on their own or entertain themselves will always be beholden to a source of entertainment.
Trust, this is not good.
If they make friends who are ready and willing to guide them into some fun activity, they may go along with it. Kids who aren’t confident in their own ability to be “okay” with themselves will always need the attention of others, and I don’t think any of us want that.
Play, on the other hand, activates the imagination and thinking of kids. I believe we all really want our kids to think for themselves. To at least pause before acting, and let their consciences and minds have a chance to send up warning flags or bells.
The more a child is used to making decisions, and dealing with the repercussions of their decisions, the more mature they’ll be.
All that said….
There is still a place for both entertainment and play in the lives of children. There aren’t ballets, operas, broadway shows, movies, and albums for nothing.
People do enjoy being entertained, and it can truly be a relaxing refuge at the end of a busy day.
So, again, I’m not advocating an entertainment-free lifestyle, but simply a balanced view for our children’s day to day lives in view of the fact that they’ll always be entertainment, but they get out of childhood without enough play.
- When they are “bored.”
- Choose a time during each day for free play.
- Institute independent play in their routine (here’s how to start teaching kids to play on their own).
- Move away from becoming the idea fountain for your kids.
- Provide materials for imaginary play such as Lincoln Logs, LEGO, dress up clothes (go to thrift stores or raid your attic), stuffed animals, dolls, play kitchens, buckets, shovels, etc. The list is endless.
- Let screen time or entertainment come after chores and play.
- Provide new environments for play such as another siblings room, backyard, front yard, park, etc.
- After kids have played.
- When they are ill and you need a way to keep them in bed resting.
- On car trips after they’ve become restless and cranky.
- As a reward for good behavior.
- When you want to teach a certain skill in a detailed manner.
- If you have company over and need assurance of some quiet time.
- Choose movies or shows that have a lesson and then use that to discuss afterwards, this will tie entertainment into learning.
- At a chaotic point in the day like when it’s time for you to cook dinner.