Children Have a Right to Play

children-playing from px Play is fun and important for children’s intellectual and physical development.  But did you know that children actually have a “right” to play? Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically recognizes that children have a right to engage in play and recreational activities. It may seem obvious that children need to play, but it can be easy to forget in a world focused on test scores, GPAs, and “getting ahead.”  Many parents have enroll their young children in foreign-language, music, sports, and other programs for these purposes.  These help children in many ways and can build skills to allow for play at other times (i.e. jamming out on a saxophone by oneself), but they are not exactly what the UN Convention has in mind. Play is hard to define, but we know it when we see it.  It’s a period of time when a person can freely choose what to do and chooses to do something he or she enjoys doing.  It is usually a somewhat independent endeavor, unguided by someone who may otherwise be “in charge.”  So taking a class or lesson — as much fun as the subject may be  — is not exactly “play.” Children need regular periods of unstructured play — times when they can use their imaginations and test out what they have learned in other contexts.  Brain research shows that people need breaks in order to regain their focus, and the human attention span is on a cycle of increased and then decreased capacity.  The brain needs down time in order to process information, and it uses this down time to recycle chemicals needed for long-term memory formation. Adults also need playtime.  For one thing, we need children to play on their own so that we can have some free time ourselves.  But we also need to find ways to incorporate play into our everyday lives.  Play is important for adults’ physical health, and it improves problem-solving, boosts creativity, and helps build strong relationships.  It also gives us joy; it makes our lives happy and fulfilling. The takeaway?  Your child is not wasting time by playing freely around the house, at the park, in your yard, or anywhere else.  You as an adult (and any employees you supervise!) are not wasting time by playing.  We all — children in particular — have a right to play, and we need to take advantage of it.