Play is an integral part of childhood but our idea of play as Millennials or members of Generation X is a lot different than our children’s idea of the same. The world has changed, technology is more accessible and the youngest generation is just as happy staying inside and playing games with friends as we were to head outside from sunrise to sunset. Now, we don’t have anything against playing video games, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of active play.  Why does active play make such a difference for your children?

It Keeps Them Healthy

Active outdoor play isn’t just good to help your little ones burn off some extra energy.  It can help keep them healthy as well. According to the USDA, children between the ages of 6 and 17 years need to participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity every single day. Most kids don’t get that much activity, even during the school day where they might have recess or PE classes.  Physical activity during the week helps to keep our kids healthy.

It Promotes Social Learning

As an adult, we learn how to manage awkward social interactions through things like small talk but kids don’t have those tools to help them navigate the world.  Play is their language, their small talk, and active play teaches social skills that they’ll use throughout life.  While they won’t always be making new friends on the playground, being able to approach someone in their group that they might not know and start a conversation is a skill that you learn during play.

It Teaches Things That You Won’t Learn in School

School can teach us math and reading and science and history, but there are things that even the most skilled teacher can’t convey to the new generation, things that they learn during recess and other unstructured play. Active play, especially if it’s unstructured, fosters problem-solving skills that can’t be taught in the classroom.  Watch a group of kids as they play.  You’ll see one clear leader emerge as they build worlds, create monsters to slay and work together to defeat them. This helps to teach leadership, but it’s more than just one child taking control. If another child steps up and has a better idea, the leader will happily step down and let them take over, something that adults seem to have forgotten in their race to be ‘grown-up.’

It Encourages Creativity

You won’t see a more creative person than a child faced with an obstacle that’s interfering with their active play. It could be something simple like a branch in their path, or complex like a bully that’s keeping them from using the playground equipment.  Regardless of the problem, they will often come up with a way to solve it that an adult never would have considered.  The same thing goes for creating games — letting them engage in active and unstructured play gives them an arena to build their own worlds from the ground up.  Ask them to tell you about their game. You’ll always be surprised by what they’ve come up with.

It Helps Build Bonds Between Parent and Child

The United Nations’ High Commission for Human Rights has called the need to play a human right for a child, but it’s not just important to keep little ones healthy and teach them the skills that they’ll need later as an adult.  It’s also integral in building bonds between parents and their children. Take the time to put your phone down and engage in play with your child. Be the monster they have to slay or the mountain they have to climb, or just part of their entourage as they explore the fantasy worlds that they’ve created. Not only will it help you get your activity for the day to stay healthy, but it will also help to create an unshakable bond between you and your little ones.

Looking Forward

It’s tempting to relegate our children to the electronic babysitter or other devices that hold their attention.  We get it — in today’s busy world, it’s difficult to find the time to make sure that everything on your to-do list gets completed.  If you’re the kind of person who writes a to-do list, include some outdoor active play. Not only does it help keep your little one healthier, but it also teaches them social and other soft skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.  If you want to create the leaders of tomorrow, it starts on the playground.