At HAPPÉ, we believe that playing is a crucial element to helping children become confident, emotionally sound, and happy! Play comes naturally to children; it’s almost unstoppable. In any situation or environment, whether alone or with friends or family, children will find new ways to play and reimagine the world around them. It’s so important, in fact, that the United Nations recognizes it as a fundamental human right, not a privilege or afterthought.
Play is critical to the healthy development of children and emotional maturity of adults. Yet despite its natural and almost guaranteed presence in children and scientifically proven benefits, it’s not put at the forefront of curricula. At HAPPÉ, we want to fill in the gaps of traditional schooling by harnessing the power of play in every exercise, challenge, and game we create.
The Purpose and Power of Play
Play isn’t all just fun and games! Ok, well, maybe it is – but play has a deeper purpose. Even in the most dire situations, children will find a way to play. So why is that? Wouldn’t it be easier to just watch and learn from our parents?
As Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play put it, “Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity. Nothing fires up the brain like play.”
Play contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Indeed, unstructured play is a form of mental exercise. It’s an opportunity for children to experiment, feel, and process their emotions. One way children learn is through observing their parents and mimicking their actions, but this process can be rigid. Observation shows the how but not the why. When children practice what they’ve seen through play, they have the chance to experience emotions in an unrestrained way. Play is the ultimate form of trial and error.
The judgement-free, trial and error zone helps children to become confident in themselves, their skills, interests, and social interactions. They develop new competencies like decision-making, negotiation, confidence, and independence. They find what works, what doesn’t, and what might work, and then they explore that until the cycle repeats itself. This process helps children to discover and build upon their passions and even to make their passions into careers in adulthood. Parents, the foundation for your profession today might have been laid before you even knew it, as you were playing and learning and imagining as a child!
Playing with other children also helps them to develop a healthier worldview by sharpening their social skills and becoming more empathetic. The simple realization that other people think and feel things independently of what you feel is an important milestone in a child’s mental development. After all, the highest form of knowledge is empathy. It’s the cornerstone of being able to build and sustain healthy relationships in all stages of life.
The Power of Play for Parents
As we age, we’re given fewer and fewer opportunities to truly play without boundaries or expectations. As early as kindergarten, test results and performance become embedded in our children’s lives. Taking time for unstructured, child-led play does more to strengthen their creativity and emotional development than any learning tablet or educational TV show could. It also has benefits for parents since we are hardwired to play, even as adults.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is crucial to maintaining parent-child bonds. Letting your child “run the show” and engaging with their imaginative worlds makes us more empathetic and creative as well. It can help both the parent and child to be more active by exercising in a fun non-linear way. It’s a valuable, irreplaceable bonding time. There simply isn’t enough play in the day!
Opportunities to Play
There are countless opportunities to play throughout the day, but there isn’t an unlimited amount of time. The good news is that children are practically equipped with all the tools they need to engage in enriching, stimulating play all on their own. HAPPÉ was created to be a path to emotional development. It leverages the power of play and prompts children to think more deeply into how their reactions and relationships can shape the world around them. It also teaches children that they possess the key to their happiness. Parents can sign their children up for our FREE Mission I’m Possible Program to create a world where they are in control of their emotional well-being. In this program, “top secret” prompts are sent to them each week and encourages them to be “agents” in their worlds. For example, their mission might be to perform three simple acts of kindness and to record how it made the recipient feel and act. It starts out with a video message but quickly breaks away from the virtual world and lets children play and reflect.
Parents can also get in on the action by helping plan missions, observing and understanding how their kids engage with the activities, and debriefing after the mission.
Simply engaging in play by letting your kids guide the scenarios is a perfect way to watch them become confident and well-rounded while making valuable use of free time. If you want to use toys, keep it simple! A child can use even a basic object like a bucket to imagine endless scenarios using it. Don’t be afraid to get down on the ground and build blocks, whip up magic potions, play dress up, or play whatever game your child dreams up.
Play is the pure joy of childhood, and when you’re there following along, you get to share it.