Importance of “Play” for Kids, Tweens, and Teens

Jill Howlett Mays, MS, OTR/L was my guest on The Coffee Klatch Tweetchat I hosted a few years back.  We had a marvelous session on some of the topics covered in her book Your Child’s Motor Development Story Understanding and Enhancing Development from Birth to Their First Sport that came out in the Fall of 2011. Our topic of discussion was Importance of “Play” for Kids, Tweens, and Teens. For the first segment of our session I had a Q&A period with Jill and then it was Open Forum so participants could tweet questions or comments.

About Jill Howlett Mays, MS, OTR/L

 Jill Howlett Mays, MS, OTR/LJill Howlett Mays, a mom of two boys and a girl, has worked more than 30 years as an occupational therapist.  Jill has a private practice specializing in pediatrics and consultation in sensory motor development.  She works with children with autism (ASD), attention deficits disorders (ADD), and other special needs. Jill has been helping parents and educators understand the many concepts of sensory motor development.  This process affects not only motor skills but the emotional well-being of the child and the ability to organize and attend to the world as well. On every page of her book you will know that Jill is speaking from experience and that she is knowledgeable about her topic. And this morning, her expertise on this topic came through with every tweet!

If you missed our Tweetchat, this is what was discussed. Remember our 140 character limitation on Twitter.

Lorna: Welcome Jill, ALL parents should know about your book, Your Child’s Motor Development Story. With a few tweets tell us about it.

<< Jill Howlett Mays >> Hi Lorna, thanks for inviting me and welcome to everyone joining us!  The book explains how motor skills develop from birth through the grade school years and why this is important. Movement is critical not just for physical health, it is essential for healthy emotional, cognitive and social development as well. In my book, through case studies and examples, the link between motor growth and brain development is explained.  Strategies for parents, teachers and other childcare practitioners are given to help calm kids, increase focus, energy and attention.  Lists of practical activities and suggestions are provided at the end of each section to facilitate growth in the areas reviewed.

Your Child's Motor DevelopmentLorna:  You say the concepts and strategies about motor development are critical for all children. Explain this.

<< Jill Howlett Mays >>When we move, nerves send messages to areas of the brain that are key to organization. The more input, the better these areas work.  The more you move the more organized and better you feel. Tethered in car seats and video games 24/7 can stunt the brain’s growth.  Important connections and pathways in the brain don’t get made. We’re wondering why there’s an increase in ADHD and other behavioral issues.  As kids play less, statistics show huge decreases in physical activity, these conditions increase. Also let’s not forget about health issues like child obesity!!

 Lorna: You feel it is better to get all kids playing in a more natural and holistic way. Tell us about the importance of “Play” for Kids, Tweens, and Teens.

<<  Jill Howlett Mays >> Any physical activity is good, but opportunities for kids to play on their own forces them to figure out how to move, or MOTOR PLAN. They learn to take risks, figure out their limits and become more flexible in developing physical and cognitive learning strategies.  A balance between structured instructional type activities (e.g. sports teams) and They learn to take risks, figure out their limits and become more flexible in developing physical and cognitive learning strategies..

Lorna: A study, Barriers to Physical Activity in Child Care Centers Identified, by Pediatric Association got lot of coverage when it came out.  What good points did they make?

<< Jill Howlett Mays >>The study author was Dr. Kristen Copeland from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. The study looked at today’s playgrounds. There are so many safety features that kids find them boring and they don’t develop key motor skills. Which brings up our society’s overriding concern of lawsuits the commercialization of kids. Childhood and play are no longer valued. If folks knew how play makes kids strong, happy, organized– THIS would become the #1 priority! Kids enjoy a drawer full of measuring cups and bowls more than expensive plastic baubles, but parents think these won’t increase Baby Einstein’s bottom line.

The novelty of rocks to climb, curbs to balance on, fences to crawl under leads to more motor growth than the familiar play structure.  If you have a solid understanding of what is entailed in motor development, the natural world offers all the opportunities you need.  Your Child’s Motor Development Story gives you that foundation.

What Happens When Kids Are Encouraged to “MOVE”

Why play is importantAs children move, messages get sent to the brain and activate areas that are key to neurological organization.  Especially areas that help filter what to pay attention to and what not too. We are bombarded by billions of nerve stimuli every second and we need to know what to pay attention to. Without that filter we can’t pay attention and might get upset. This might be the reason some of our kids “check out.” Also, connections and pathways are made in the brain for better communication for learning. If basic pathways are established, the child is more flexible and the earlier the better. However it is never too late to begin!

Tweets by Participants Showing the Importance of PLAY

  • Unstructured play allows the child time to figure out  his own limits, use his imagination, and learn to take risks.
  • When kids don’t move around and have opportunities to figure out how to move they don’t make important connections in the brain.
  • There are so many reasons to play with children –bonding, motor development, and it alleviates stress.
  • Neuroscience is SCREAMING that we need to start playing with our kids!
  • With older kids, parents have to let their kids take a few tumbles and make a few mistakes–remember helicopter parenting?

If Possible, Play Outdoors

Importance of Playing as a family

  • Mother Nature is saying, “Where are all the children?”
  • I find kids behavior improves when they get outdoors every day.
  • Running, skipping, riding bikes/tricycles–kids are exercising their bodies and exercising their minds.
  • Exploring outdoors and just plain being a kid is vital. No plans, no rules.  Jill’s book is SO good on that topic.
  • With all the great cold weather gear out there, going outside in the winter should be fine. There are lots of tactile stimulation outdoors!
  • Good shoes are a must!  Shoes must have good support, be FLAT, and have rubbery soles for children to be able to have FUN playing outdoors.

Weight Bearing Activities… Importance of Crawling

Importance of crawlingKeep in mind that gross motor activities are also key to fine motor development.  When children are referred to Jill for fine motor issues, she usually has them engage in weight bearing activities to strengthen their hands.  Great weight bearing activities are crab walking, bear walking, wheel barrow walking, jumping, and don’t forget crawling. Crawling establishes the base for all motor activity! Crawling requires dynamic balancing, reciprocal movements and a lot of core trunk strength.  This leads to good bilateral motor coordination and endurance for all physical activity (including sitting upright in class).

Don’t forget, the importance of playing for parents too… The time spent playing with your child brings increase joy, reduces your stress, and gives you the perfect opportunity to connect with your children.

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