Play is a child’s work.
A child at play reaps benefits beyond a mere physical workout. Some activities nurture creativity and socialization skills, as well as energy- and anxiety-management. So, in choosing a camp, class or other recreational activity, remember the invisible benefits to play.
Jennifer Oakes, recreation supervisor for the city of Keller, believes that “any recreation program or class for any age group is going to offer a non-traditional benefit, but most parents (or the child) don’t think about those benefits. The child who chooses an archery class, depending on age, may want to hunt or shoot arrows like Hawkeye from ‘The Avengers,’ but the additional benefits are hand-eye coordination, muscle control and socialization, to name a few.”
Oakes’ job is to give her community as many opportunities and options for activities as possible, with the ultimate goal for them to find their passion: “a lifetime leisure activity, or to sometimes just relax and participate for the intrinsic value — until they find what they love.”
For the parent trying to help their child choose activities, it starts with knowing your child. “My 9-year-old wouldn’t go near a basketball camp, but he loves any techie class,” Oakes explains. Sometimes parents don’t have a lot of options, but there are summer camps that are not as active as others.
Most organized play activities offer socialization, team and confidence building or just making a new friend. Pair those benefits with something your child loves to do. Oakes says her 6-year-old daughter is outgoing at home, but shy otherwise; however, she loves to sing. “So, find what your child is confident in doing and successful at — and build on it.”
Kids should have input on their playtime activities. “Some kids want to try everything. Let them!” says Oakes.
The importance of play extends to the classroom. For Patti Merryman, “who a child becomes is as important as what they learn” and academic programs at her Primrose School of Keller are balanced with learning life and social skills. She and her husband, Bill, opened the school 21 years ago. Now daughter, Taylor, a new education graduate from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, has joined the teaching staff involved in child care, pre-school, after-school and summer programs.
“Much of learning is not sitting at a desk doing work sheets. We include a lot of hands-on, which might look like play,” says Taylor.
The school is strong on academics, but focused play provides non-traditional benefits. This summer’s Cooking Week for 6- to 12-year-olds had them researching recipes, creating healthy menus, planning a budget, shopping for food, making choices about what they could afford and then cooking the meal. “It’s math, it’s science, but also sharing, making group decisions and taking responsibility for their well-being,” said Patti Merryman.
A popular leisure activity for adults has been recognized as beneficial for children — and for much the same reason. “Children today are under so much stress, even the younger ones,” observes Shanti Nolen, Keller Yoga owner and teacher. Although she learned yoga from her parents at a young age, she thought of it as an adult activity. It wasn’t until she trained to teach a children’s yoga camp that she saw the benefits to children and how much they enjoyed it. Last school year she visited almost every Keller elementary school before the STAARS testing to teach them yoga breathing techniques and poses as stress relievers.
“Everything about yoga is about a happy mind. Through yoga, kids learn body awareness and body control. When I went to the schools, I showed them tools they could use to reduce stress. How proper breathing and good posture affects their mood and gives them confidence. Kids really loved shavasana — a resting pose — at the end of a class. It is a balance of relaxation and meditation, not taking a nap.
“They learned that it was OK to be angry, but they had the tools to manage their emotions and their anxiety at taking a test,” Nolen explains.
Stacey Blind, a sixth-grade science and social studies teacher at Timberview Middle School, introduced yoga to her students as part of her involvement with Blue Zones. Blue Zones is a national movement based on books by Dan Buettner on the secrets of the world’s longest living people.
Occasionally during a class, Blind, a former Pilates teacher, would turn out the lights, turn on a diffuser with essential oils and play “spa music” with the kids lying against the wall. She would tell them to go to their happy place. At first, she had to give them ideas where that might be.
“These sixth-graders thought it funny at first, but then they were begging me to have more. It really surprised me. I thought they were just glad to get out of school work, but they really enjoyed it and saw results. Research talks about the benefits of yoga and its emphasis on mindfulness. Mindfulness is purposefully relaxing, focusing on breathing to relieve stress.
“The students talked about their stress and I showed them how they could do the same techniques at home. Even ADHD and students on the autism spectrum benefit from these techniques.
“Just like their parents, students are running 90 miles an hour. They need down time, not zoning out with a screen, but a go-to tool to relax that they can do on their own. It is the healthy option, instead of alcohol, drugs or food.”
Blind plans a Mindful Monday every week this coming school year so her students can start off the year right and look forward to it every week.
Parents have taken notice of the benefits of kids’ yoga. Shanti Nolen has classes for preschoolers to teens at Keller Yoga. “The class for young children has lots of music and we make a game of it and give animal names to the poses. The kids love it. As they progress, they are more challenged and amazed as they see what they can accomplish.”
Jessica Trezise of north Fort Worth believes the earlier the better and has 3-year-old Abraham and 2-year-old Annabelle taking classes. “It gives them personal power and coping skills.” Just recently Annabelle’s second time at swim lessons had her screaming uncontrollably. Mom’s advice to take a breath calmed her down — to the swim teacher’s amazement. A stubbed toe had Abraham unhappy until Mom reminded him to take a breath. “It shows them that they have control of their feelings,” she says.
Misty Weaver of Keller, says through yoga her 7-year-old, David, has learned to manage his energy. He realizes when he needs to relax, when it is appropriate for high energy and low energy.”
Steffanie Brown of north Fort Worth has her three sons — Caden, 8; Evan, 7; and Liam, 4 — enrolled in yoga and while they initially fought her, they now love coming to class. One of the biggest benefits for the single mom is bedtime has become a quiet event. “We treat bedtime as a family affair. Used to be everyone was stalling – getting a glass of water, going to the bathroom. Now we all pile up together around pillows, with restful music and focus on relaxing our mind and body. I couldn’t believe that in five or six days the boys were quietly going to bed.”