Back to the Future with Play

Back to the Future with Play
What’s old is new again when it comes to play. It’s the perfect learning laboratory for children, but it’s not just for kids. Now, more than ever, play is being prescribed to improve creativity, enhance connections and reduce stress on the job. 
Mounting research on the subject of play has tipped the scales so greatly in its favor that it may make ringing the recess bell a top priority at school, according to Licensed Professional Counselor Tricia Ferrara, who is author of Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now. “It is clear that unfettered, undirected play may be the most cutting-edge opportunity you can give your child. It requires and inspires effort for young minds. In the process, children build upon ideas and strengthen mental muscles,” says Ferrara.
In today’s world where screen-time absorbs the majority of kids’ free time, traditional play has all but disappeared. Gone are the days when children of all ages regularly gathered together for unstructured play. Pooling their creative energy, they learned from each other and cultivated teamwork, leadership, conflict resolution and communication skills. Those are the critical behavioral skills that will serve them well at home, at school and eventually on the job. Play is an ideal way to let children explore careers in a fun, no-stress manner. And it’s time to get it back on your child’s radar.
Let the Career Games Begin!
While little direction is necessary, depending on your child’s age, parents may have to offer some guidance, props or supervision. The goal isn’t to play with your child; instead kids should interact with other children and play should unfold organically. Getting started is as easy as opening up a conversation to discover what career adventure they want to explore. Talk about what activities might take place on the job and invite them to think of fun props to get their creative juices flowing. Here are some ideas to prime the pump:
Librarian: Gather books and magazines from around the house, categorize them by type, make creative displays, prepare library cards, include a read-out-loud story time, “check-out” books with a pretend rubber stamp or scanner. An alternative is to collect used books and play library prior to donating.
Retail Store Owner: Select household items, canned goods or clothing and prepare price tags. Create displays and signage. The sales representative can describe the items for the customer, who can use play money to make purchases. Add up totals on receipts, collect money and make change. 
Restauranteur: Depending on how elaborate you want to be, kids can use pretend food or serve up a real lunch. Design signs and menus with prices. The hostess can seat guests and present menus while the waiter fills water glasses, announces specials and takes orders for the chef. Check please!
Teacher: Every child will be ready to take a turn at running the classroom and assigning homework... and you are sure to have all the necessary props on hand!
Musicians: Use real instruments or create your own with pots, beans in jars, bells and more. Kids can create their own music or lyrics, name the band, prepare a written program and perform.
Journalists: Kids can create a masthead online or on paper, plan articles and illustrations, do research and conduct interviews. They can also prepare articles, crossword puzzles, cartoons and more. Distribute electronically or on paper.
While your kids will have hours of fun, their playtime will help them build relationships, gain confidence and foster skills and attitudes that they can draw on as they grow. And you never know, you might just be laying the groundwork for a budding entrepreneur!
Ellen Langas is a youth career education advocate who is founder of Kids Know How® and author of the Girls Know How® book series that inspires children to explore careers and follow their dreams. The mother of two grown daughters, Ellen is President of NouSoma Communications, Inc.