When children play, their brains come alive, and their brain function improves. Play is their work, and they learn so much while they interact with their peers. Notice I said, “interact with their peers.” The play I’m talking about isn’t sitting on the computer with the latest video games. I’m talking about the play we did as children: running around outside, role playing, etc.
Let’s talk about how play helps the three parts of your child’s brain to develop and grow. You’ll be amazed at what a simple act like play accomplishes.
The Reptilian Brain
Because the reptilian brain learns best with rhythm, routine, repetition and ritual, play activities such as nursery rhymes and learning an instrument are perfect examples of helping the brain develop through rhythm. Many children today can’t pass a steady beat competency test, which is a fancy way of saying they can’t clap their hands to the beat of a song.
For your child, repetition, routine, and rituals create a feeling of warmth and security, which quiets the reptilian brain and makes it possible for him or her to learn. If your child feels fear on any level, he or she cannot learn. So if play can help him or her to feel safe, it helps learning.
What can you do to help quiet the reptilian brain? Help your children feel warm, cozy, and protected. Keep the temperature of your home at a comfortable level, and keep warm afghans and blankets near your child. Soothe him or her with hot drinks, or simply hug him or her close.
Your child should always know you are there for him or her. Your presence and your attention are the greatest gifts you can give. Always be in the moment with your child, and always listen. Feeling heard is worth more than any toy or therapy you could provide.
When your child is scared, he or she will fight, flee, or freeze, and this builds up adrenaline that needs to be released. Running is a natural way to get rid of it, and walking, playing, or other exercise works too. Movement not only bleeds off adrenaline, but it also helps the brain release dopamine, the “feel good” chemical. Exercise and play also help your child concentrate and keep moods positive and the physical body healthy.
In the next blog, we’ll talk about how play helps the other two parts of the brain, the limbic system and the neocortex.