Play is the highest form of research according to Albert Einstein and yet we think of play as something kids can do when they have nothing else to do. While kids are vacationing at home this summer, one thing they can focus on is play. One of the best forms of play is imaginary games. Kids can set up imaginary hospitals where they treat all their stuffed animals who have COVID-19 and imaginary restaurants where they serve the patrons at the curbside.

According to a NY Times article in which Sandra Russ Ph.D is quoted,

"Play helps modulate their mood. They can express these things in little bits in ways that are manageable for them.”

Even when the play includes elements a parent might find troubling, it’s often a sign a child is working through the intensity of living through something difficult, like a global pandemic.

“They integrate it, including their fears, and build a story around it,” she said. “That narrative is really important.”

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, one of the founding fathers of developmental psychology, saw certain types of play as milestones in development. Play helps kids learn, plan and persevere in the face of adversity, according to research.

Regulating your emotions and persevering through difficult times is something kids learn through pretend play, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. In an experiment they asked 25% of the children to pretend to be someone else while they completed a challenging task. Just pretending seemed to help many kids manage their emotions.

“A review of literature involving pretend play in medical settings in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, indicates that pretend play interventions are effective in inpatient and outpatient settings for preventing and reducing anxiety and distress. Pretend play also has effects on pain, externalizing behavior, and adaptation to chronic illness.”

Kids like parents are having a hard time coping with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 epidemic. Don’t think they don’t know what is going on. They sense the tension and hear the chatter.

One thing parents can do is get kids some puppets, stuffed animals, or playdoh and let them imagine. We all get boxes from Amazon. We can repurpose them by letting kids use them to play. Studies suggest that pretend play is a steppingstone to the important adult skill of planning.

A NY Times article published July 21, 2020 talks about “How Play Energizes Your Kids Brain.” We are all worried about the COVID Slump since kids have not be in school for months. But it might not be as bad as you think if you give them the opportunity to play.  

The pandemic experience is new to all of us but this is not the first time in history that children have had to cope with illness. It happened in the 1918 flu epidemic, and all subsequent epidemics in the 21st century. Kids used to play AIDS tag at the height of the AIDS epidemic, according to an article entitled “Tag, You’ve Got Aids.”

Sports is the ultimate way for kids to play but it is limited this summer for many kids who don’t have access to the outdoors or to sports camps. Still, you can get some families together to indulge in your favorite sport in a local park, if it is open or even in the backyard. Focusing on new games brings fun and interest to kids. Let them lead and have fun. It is a stress reliever and builds resilience.

The New York Times has devoted multiple columns to the importance of play. Here they are to help you get informed on its amazing benefits!

Additional Resources on the benefits of Play