The power of play with pediatrician Dr. Waters

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Research shows the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of TV per day. And Dr. Laura Waters, a pediatrician at Mercy, says too much screen time may be taking kids away from playtime.

But don’t worry! While kids may be spending more time in front of a screen because they are learning remotely this year, Dr. Waters says a lot can be learned while playing, too.

Dr. Waters says playtime for kids has been declining for decades. In addition to more screen time, other contributing factors may be more tightly structured family and school schedules, more parents working outside the home, and in some cases, fewer safe places to play.

She says play is vital because it improves children’s ability to plan, organize, get along with others, and regulate emotions. It also helps with language, math and social skills and can even help kids cope with stress.

Dr. Waters says different types of play have additional benefits. For example, playing with toys or other objects can help kids with sensory-motor skills. They can learn symbolism by using objects and pretending they are another, for example, using a toy banana as a phone.

She says physical play helps develop motor skills, prevents obesity, and builds emotional intelligence and confidence as they take some risks in relatively safe play environments, like sliding, swinging or monkey bars.

Playing outside can also be beneficial. Dr. Waters says with outdoor play, kids can use all their senses to build skills, spatial awareness and balance. Playing outside can also help improve attention span and spur curiosity as they explore their environment.

Pretend play also has its benefits, she says, allowing for experimentation and cooperation, encouraging creativity and building more complex negotiation, communication and language skills.

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