A request for proposals by the province may seem like child’s play, but experts say children need to be encouraged to do just that — play.
The Department of Education is seeking proposals for a marketing campaign to promote the importance of play in young children’s development.
The campaign would target kids, their parents and families and professionals, as well as post-secondary institutions offering early childhood education.
Education Minister Clyde Jackman said in an email statement about the request for proposals that children learn through play “and while that may seem like a very simple concept, there are parents, caregivers, and even people who work each day with very young children who don’t really understand this.
“It is also how children develop their creativity and imagination, along with important social skills,” he said.
“The Department of Education wants to highlight and promote the importance of play-based learning as an approach which capitalizes on a child’s natural curiosity for knowledge. We want to help parents identify activities they can do with their children to support their learning and development. Research shows that it is through play that children learn about themselves, each other and the world in which they live.”
Dr. Sandra Luscombe, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and a developmental pediatrician at the Janeway, said there has been so much emphasis on structured programs for children in recent decades, there needs to be a reminder about the importance of just playing.
“I applaud the government for looking at this closer,” Luscombe said when contacted by The Telegram about the request for proposals.
There are two extremes, Luscombe said — the children who spend all their time playing video games and using the computer at the expense of a healthy lifestyle, and the those who are placed in too many organized activities (sports, music, dance and other classes).
Spontaneous play not only keeps kids active, but it also teaches them to develop their own socialization and decision-making skills, she said.
Jill Brewer, director of recreation for St. John’s, recently attended a national recreation summit, at which the concensus was children are being failed because they are becoming more obese and less active.
There are many contributing factors to the problem, but one of them is that play has been taken away from children in favour of organized activities.
The trend of the baby boomer age, said Brewer, has been to cap kids’ free-range movement and place them in a bubble, not even allowing them to get muddy.
“We’ve been getting rid of any moment of risk,” Brewer said.
Free play and problem-solving allows them to handle the things in life that are thrown at them later.
Though organized activities are still important and there needs to be a balance, the city has already recognized the need to create neighbourhood places for kids to gather like skateboard parks and trail systems.
In the skateboard parks, Brewer said, kids have set their own rules, which work well.
“We need to keep encouraging free play,” she said, instead of overprogramming kids and having adults make all their decisions and taking the fun out of play.