Play Is the Work of Childhood

July 2, 2013

Guest post by Marla Coleman

“Play is not a luxury we should ration, but rather a crucial dynamic of physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development for children of all ages.” So says Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child. In fact, play is the work of childhood, experts clarify. It is what gets children ready for learning in the first place.

But did you know that over the last two decades, children have lost eight hours per week of free, spontaneous play? And a recent study concluded that kids’ overall ability to follow instructions was inversely related to the amount of time they had to practice imaginary play. That’s because play teaches self-regulation and other lifelong skills needed for success. It is the catalyst that makes us more productive in everything we do and leads us ultimately to happiness.

Here’s the good news: Play is both the stage and the backdrop for the camp experience! It’s where children learn to dream big and to realize their goals for both themselves and for the world at large. And more good news: Play is actually instinctive for children.

Benefits of play include:

  • better social skills
  • higher emotional intelligence
  • superior self-discipline
  • greater creativity
  • school success

Christine Carter, sociologist at UC Berkley and author of Raising Happiness, asserts that “Parenting is one grand opportunity to find happiness in the messiness of life.”

So, as partners in parenting, camp directors and staff can encourage parents to sit back — revel in the joy and let the “stuff” of camp unfold for the summer — as we give their children opportunities to lead; have them engaged with counselors who are actively involved in their play; allow them to thrive by living in the moment; provide ample time for play; and celebrate their creativity and spontaneity, gratitude and forgiveness, grit, and optimism.

Camp is here — it’s time for kids to be kids — and play to their hearts’ content! It’s the power of camp!

Marla Coleman is a past president of ACA and a spokesperson. She is a founding director of Coleman Country Day Camp on Long Island. She also serves on the board of Roundup River Ranch in Colorado, a SeriousFun camp (formerly Hole-in-the-Wall) for children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.