By Kelly McKay, RN and Helen Parker, RN Public Health Nurses, Ottawa Public Health
Active play is an important part of the healthy growth and development of every child. Despite its value, time for play is often the first thing to be dropped from a busy family’s schedule.
In fact, over the last 20 years, the loss of play time has become one of the largest changes in how children spend their days.
As a result, kids are spending more time at desks, in front of screens, and in cars going to and from activities, rather than playing.
A recent Statistics Canada study found that the average Canadian child spends over 60 percent of their waking hours sitting still. As a result, kids are not getting enough physical activity for good health, and they are missing out on the joy of playing!
Why is active play important?
For kids, play is any fun activity that they can create, start and control. It relieves stress, teaches social skills and gives kids some well-needed free time in the day. Play is so important to a child’s development that it has been recognized by the United Nations as a right of every child.
Active play is especially important for kids, as it lets them move and use their bodies while having fun. Classic examples of active play include:
• Skipping and dancing
• Playing games such as follow the leader, tag, hopscotch
• Visiting the local park and playgrounds for play
The 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card states that kids need at least half of their daily physical activity to come from active play. Through active play, kids learn and practise basic movement skills such as running, jumping and throwing.
Practising and mastering these skills is important because they allow children to gain the skills and confidence they need to enjoy and succeed at physical activity throughout their lives.
Putting play back in the family schedule
Parents play a vital role in bringing back active play. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that physical activity begins at birth. Parents can start infants on the path to active living through activities such as tummy time and floor-based play. As infants grow, providing them with safe places to crawl and explore will allow them to
start developing new movement skills.
Kids are happy when parents show an interest in their world of play! It is worthwhile setting time aside for family play time. Active play is the best way to get the entire family moving, as it is fun, low-cost and can be done almost anywhere.
Here are some tips to help get parents started:
• Play with your baby, toddler or preschooler and teach them movement skills and language skills together. Sing nursery rhymes and do the actions too!
• Learn what fundamental movement skills your child needs to develop and how you can teach them
• Play a mixture of games with your child that will develop different movement skills (walking, throwing, jumping, balancing, kicking, and catching).
• Have fun, give your child your full attention, and praise them when they master something new.
• Don’t focus on buying fancy gear. Some of the best toys are everyday objects around the house. Couch cushions can become lily pads, an empty milk carton can become a bowling pin, and a balloon can become a ball.
• Create chances for play by turning off the TV, computer and video games.
• Keep safety in mind. Kids want to be challenged, but make sure the games they choose will not lead to injury.
Remember, young children need to be supervised.
Even when life gets busy, play should still be a part of the daily family schedule. This can be difficult to do, but the entire family will benefit.
Some of the best memories between kids and adults are made during play time. Encouraging active play teaches children the joy of movement and the fundamental movement skills they need to form healthy habits for the entire family.
Becoming more active can be child’s play!
For more information on physical literacy, visit the Canadian Sport for Life or Active for Life websites or contact Ottawa Public Health’s Information Life at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-580-6744.