I love watching kids play – learning new sports and activities for the very first time. They're so excited, energetic and engaged as they build their muscles along with their imagination and confidence. (And it's so much more enjoyable for kids and parents alike than parking them in front of the TV.)
In my work I've watched hundreds of kids learn new skills and enjoy the pure act of physical play. Here are a few of the benefits beyond the simple fun of it:
1. Play builds confidence and imagination. Through physical activity, children are given the chance to try new things, conquer their fears and build their confidence. It's been proven that when a child is physically active and successful in their movements, they show higher levels of self-esteem and a great sense of accomplishment, according to a piece by Rae Pica, a movement education consultant in Earlychildhood News.
Every new exercise takes practise and ends in reward – whether it's trying to do a somersault for the first time or climbing to the end of the monkey bars. Once they've done it (and their confidence spikes!), they are able to take on bigger, more challenging activities.
2. Play develops key motor and athletic skills.
Kids will develop and grow without even realizing it! When they touch their toes, they learn about co-ordination, balance and spatial relationships. When they play with a ball, they strengthen their fine-motor skills. And when they dance, they learn about rhythm and move to the beat.
Being fit appears to create exponential benefits, too. "Fit children are more likely to participate in sports, dance, games, and other physical activities that improve muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, cardio-respiratory endurance, and body composition," writes Pica, who adds that physical activity also helps kids get throughout the day without fatigue.
3. Play with others teaches teamwork and good sportsmanship.
Children get to interact with each other in a social, non-competitive environment. It doesn't matter if they win or lose – it's about working together and trying their best.
For example, activities as simple as playing with a parachute in a gym setting are not as effective unless all children are participating. In order to create "waves" with the parachute – or the game "cat and mouse" – everyone needs to take part and own a specific role. In team sports such as soccer, children build off each other's strength and successes and cheer each other on. They need to learn to work together to move across the field and score an awesome goal.
4. Play can build strong bonds between parents and children.
When parents or caregivers demonstrate jumping jacks, show kids how to throw a bumpy ball, and or lead a boisterous sing-along with their kids, not only are kids learning crucial physical skills, they're also clocking more quality time interacting with those adults. Parents, too, are more engaged in their children's lives. When parents are actively playing with their child instead of simply observing, this really allows them to understand what their child loves most: Is it the sing-along, the soccer game, or the somersault? That's important information.
5. Play makes kids happy.
As many experts will tell you, play is like children's work. Play allows children to socialize, develop, and learn new skills–while learning about themselves and others. They are able to develop a daily routine that doubles as the perfect start to a healthy, active lifestyle (all without even realizing it!).
Cathy Piedra-McKenzie is an entrepreneur, busy mother of two, and president of Kidville Canada, where parents and kids can put creativity, fun and family-time first. Visit the flagship location in Toronto's Yonge Lawrence Village. You can visit her Facebook page at Kidville Canada and follow her on Twitter at @cathy_pm