Play time is integral to a child’s development. Between the ages of two and four, a child’s form of play can change drastically—at age two he may be pretend playing, and at three he might enjoy playing with other children more. His imagination has come to life, and he may make up stories and games. His play has become more complex. Still, children under five have relatively short concentration spans, so he may decide to end a game abruptly.
There are two types of play: structured and unstructured (free). Structured play revolves around adult supervision and has limits to time and space, like classes and sports. Unstructured play is arguably more important and better for young children. They get to choose what to do, make decisions and explore. They can make up their own rules, which helps to develop their critical thinking skills. Also, as children play together they learn social and problem solving skills.
The skills children acquire through play vary depending on the type of play: Puzzles, memory card games, board games and building and construction games like Legos or blocks promote children’s thinking skills. Playing dress-up develops children’s creativity and imagination. Allowing children to explore with different textures is also beneficial. Playing outside is a good way to release energy, as well as develop gross motor skills to help develop muscles. Alternately, books encourage children’s language and literacy skills. They may learn new words and even start recognizing small words like dog and cat.
Television can also be a powerful educational tool, but it should be used with caution.
It is easy and tempting to leave young children with the TV, computer or tablet, especially given parents’ busy schedules outside of the home. The reasons for choosing to allow children unlimited screen time are understandable. Television and computers provide easy entertainment for children who otherwise might be a handful. Parents might secretly enjoy their newfound time to themselves when their children are occupied with technology. Alternately, attempting to limit screen time would involve such a power struggle that parents are not sure it is worth it. Lastly, being technologically savvy is important, especially in today’s high-tech world, and parents may want to encourage their children to be adept with devices from a young age.
However, experts recommend limiting screen time to an hour a day for children two to five years of age. Research shows that children with excessive exposure to television had language and cognitive delays. Screen time is addictive, and too much screen time could delay social development and communication skills.
So how should parents police their children’s technology habits? For one, it is important to hold a family meeting about screen time so that every member of the family is aware and part of the plan. It is also effective to create a “parking lot” of sorts for electronic devices, a basket or charging station from which family members cannot retrieve their devices during certain times of day.
In lieu of individual screen time, the family can implement new routines and additional family activities to stay close and maintain relationships. Finding a balance is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship with one’s electronic devices. This applies not only to children, but parents as well, because screens are equally addictive to both. Parents can work with their kids to set gentle but firm limits to daily media exposure to find that healthy balance between screen time and “real life”.