Children face health challenges from sitting too long. Increasingly children, at ever younger ages, are being expected to sit still and pay attention in the pursuit of academic achievement without adequate time for physical activity. Art, music, and open-ended play are being eliminated, to the detriment of their health and well-being.
Gone are the days when children spent hours outdoors exploring, hiking, climbing trees, swinging from branches or in swings, jumping rope, throwing and catching, playing games, and running with the wind because they could. Even so, growing bodies need regular and vigorous exercise to fully develop balance, coordination, strength, and endurance. Through physical activities children gain body awareness, learning where they are in space. They need not look down at their feet to know how they are standing. They can feel their position.
Pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, writing in her blog The right-and surprisingly wrong-ways to get kids to sit still in class, points out that “Children NEED to experience…’rapid vestibular (balance) input’ on a daily basis. In other words, they need to go upside down, spin in circles, and roll down hills. They need authentic play experiences that get them moving in all different directions in order to stimulate the little hair cells found in the vestibular complex (located in the inner ear.)”
She asserts that children need significant time everyday for unstructured play to “effectively develop the balance system.” Only then, she points out, will children be ready to pay attention. In a rush to reform education, those setting the agenda have lost sight of the whole child. Open-ended, unstructured, child-directed play supports physical, mental, and emotional development and leads to healthier, happier kiddos. And children learn when playing. Critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and social skills blossom during open-ended play.
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