Having a Healthy ‘Play Diet’

LearningWorks for Kids have used the USDA’s nutritional MyPlate to inspire the Kids Play Plate to help parents understand how to encourage a healthy ‘Play Diet’ for their children. Below is the overview and specifics on Digital Play. For more information go to LearningWorks for Kids website.

What is a Play Diet?

LWK-Play-Plate-WidgetWhile video games and other digital media are essential for the academic and cognitive development of 21st Century children, here at LearningWorks for Kids we believe that such digital play is only one portion of a healthy “Play Diet.”

Just like nutritional diets, a healthy Play Diet is balanced but proportional. For children to achieve healthy development, they need spend their play time not just with Digital Play, but also with Social Play, Active Play, Creative Play, and Free Play. When it comes to nutrition, it goes without saying that one can eat too much of even the “best foods” (just think about the impact of eating too much fruit), and it works the same way when it comes to a child’s play. A child who spends all of his time on sports, while neglecting imagination games, never gets to just be free and be a kid. A child who spends hours in front of a screen, to the exclusion of active play, will not develop well-rounded social or physical skills.

Digital Play

Digital play is broadly defined as a voluntary, pleasurable, and energizing activity that involves the use of a range of digital technologies, including video games, websites, apps, mobile phones, iPods, tablets, writing programs, cameras, and many other technologies available for kids today.

While there is ongoing controversy (particularly in the media) about the value of such technologies to a child’s development, the preponderance of evidence shows that digital play is an undeniably important component of a child’s healthy Play Diet. Not only does digital play prepare children for their future in an evolving and highly technological society, the most curent research shows that the judicious use of digital media can exercise critical thinking skills, improve academic performance, and provide valuable experiences for social and emotional development as well.

At the same time, we strongly believe that setting limits on this type of play, particularly for younger children, is absolutely imperative. In addition to monitoring the amount time a child spends involved in digital play, it is also important to consider what she does with that time, the type of digital content she consumes, and what purpose her digital play time is serving for her.

For example, parents need to be vigilant about ensuring that their kids do not develop the following types of bad digital play habits:

  • Using digital play as a means for self-isolation, or manifesting signs of depression or social withdrawal by spending an excessive amount of time online.
  • Reducing the time spent on physical activity, academics, and unstructured play as a result of excessive digital play time.
  • Using digital technologies as a “babysitter,” thereby reducing the amount of face-to-face time a child spends with her parents.
  • Using digital play merely as a distraction or waste of time, instead of as a healthy part of a balanced play diet.