Children don’t play as much as they used to. Structured after-school activities have replaced spontaneous get-togethers with other kids in the neighborhood, while free-flow creative time has been replaced with scheduled activities.
Being a kid today simply isn’t what it was 50 years ago, and for Dorothy Lefford, OTR/L, VP-Clinical Services with Easterseals Northeast Central Florida, lack of playtime is so much a concern that she’s actively working to change it in our communities.
“We call the phenomenon ‘play deficit,’ and we see many consequences for not allowing children to use their imaginations and play freely within healthy parameters every day and for significant intervals” said Lefford.
Play deficit has been studied extensively in recent years, and Lefford is an engaged champion dedicated to reversing the phenomenon.
“Whenever I assess a child’s development, I consider how much play is incorporated into their lives and whether it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. We can learn a lot about a child from how much unstructured playtime they enjoy,” she said.
Experts have documented the repercussions of play deficit for many years. They explain that lessened play time, notably since the 1950s, has contributed to increased mental disorders in children, higher instances of childhood anxiety and depression and increased suicide rates among older children and young adults.
“Kids need a chance to be free and explore in safe environments that allow them to thrive,” said Lefford, who now speaks to local childhood development leaders about the seemingly unlimited benefits of childhood play.
In her program, “Movement to Learn: The Brain/Body Connection,” Lefford trains professionals on the research behind movement and brain development, and its impact on performance in school and after-school programs. Further, she helps groups understand environmental factors impacting motor development and what the body needs to ultimately function.
In each session, staff learn resources and strategies to implement stress management and movement into the classroom too, and in the case of the Boys & Girls Club of Volusia/Flagler Counties, how to implement play into after-school programs.
“When children are playing, they are learning,” said Lefford. “They not only flex their imaginations, but also learn to cooperate, share, and how to be assertive without dominating. These are the kinds of social skills that serve us throughout our lifetimes.”
Added Lefford: “Playing is too important to ignore. I’m proud to work with organizations that understands its value.”
To learn more about and bring Easterseals’ “Movement to Learn” training program to your organization, call Dorothy Lefford at 386-944-7856.