It turns out that playtime is a serious business. A leading child development expert has revealed that kids should spend a minimum of three hours a day engaged in offline play in order to help their cognitive, emotional and social development.
Dr Brendon Hyndman, a Senior Lecturer in Personal Development, Health & Physical Education at Charles Sturt University, revealed his findings as research commissioned by IKEA Australia showed that four in 10 are currently falling short of the three-hour play target.
The Father Hood: So you believe that child’s play isn’t just child’s play, it’s actually very important for young kids. Why?
Dr Brendon Hyndman: Play allows kids to try out different forms of behaviour, which then gives them the creativity to solve problems later on. Play gives kids exposure to a whole range of positive cognitive aspects from using their imagination to engaging their senses to experimenting with physical movement. Plus there’s the social aspects too, in terms of all those little interactions and negotiations with other kids. Being exposed to all those variables within play sets kids up to make better decisions.
TFH: You’ve come up with this idea of kids’ having a recommended daily allowance of three hours of play. What should we be doing to facilitate this as dads?
BH: As parents we really need to value play more at home. So, just like schools expect kids to have one scheduled hour of play each day, it’d be really great to have one scheduled hour of play at home each day too. This would be a time when everyone turns off all the devices and shows that we value play by dedicating that time to playing and interacting with our kids.
TFH: How do you coax your kid into playing in a more creative way?
BH: If they’re not naturally coming up with inventive ideas, dress ups and role-plays then you can encourage it by asking questions. You could ask: “How would you do this? “Have you got any ideas about that? How would you make a song about this?”
Your questions can really help get the wheels turning in their brains. You might ask who their favourite cartoon character is and how would they attempt that particular activity? One of the benchmarks of play is for kids to direct their own ideas. So it’s about gently facilitating those ideas so your kids can then take them further independently in the following days.
TFH: Finally, my oldest son is almost three and is totally obsessed with trains. Left to his own devices, he’ll play with them all day. Should I have any concerns?
BH: I don’t think there’s a problem with that at all. If he’s happy playing with trains, it’s more about thinking about ideas to engage socially and interact with him in that context. Can you create different roles while playing with the trains or bring in other variables to add creativity and problem-solving opportunities? The key is always to try and expose your kids to multiple variables so they can create more connections and apply their senses to a broader range of aspects.