Why Playtime is Crucial: Social & Life Skills For Your Special Needs Kids

playing improves social skills for special needs kids

No one disputes the importance of the classroom in a child’s cognitive development, but new research suggests that it may not be as important as time spent on the playground.

According to Sergio Pellis, researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, the act of playing is vital to brain development for young children. The experience changes the connections in the brain’s frontal cortex, and it is these changes that allow children to properly express emotions and learn important social skills necessary in later life. These changes only happen during play, suggesting that a school day without at least come playtime could be all but useless for a young child.

a school day without at least some playtime could be all but useless for a young child.

It is important to note that it’s not just any kind of playtime that can translate into learning essential life skills. Unstructured play seems to be the most beneficial allowing children to do whatever they want. When there are no rules and no adults to referee a game, children become more creative and learn problem-solving skills on their own. Whether it’s horseplay or two kids building a Lego-housetogether, kids have to negotiate and construct rules for themselves. When they play in groups, they learn to work together and be empathetic towards others. They learn to be nice to each other, and they even adopt some clearly defined roles and social boundaries within groups…all helping to enhance their interpersonal social skills.

Playing and Special Education

These ideas about playing and brain development could mean a lot to young students in special education settings. Special needs kids don’t always respond well to traditional classroom settings, but they enjoy playtime just like any other kid. Unstructured play obviously cannot happen all the time – some lessons have to be taught in the classroom – but “free-play” provides special needs kids with life skills and social skills.

but “free-play” provides special needs kids with life skills and social skills.

Maybe this really is the key to health and brain empowerment for all children, including those in special education.

One thing is for sure: these findings show that recess is still an important part of any student’s school day, and it should never be ignored in favor of a strict classroom setting. Play prepares a young brain for school and more importantly, for life.

NPR: Child’s Play Helps Brain Development

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]At James Stanfield, We Think You Should Know: Since “free-play” enhances social skills and life skills, it is important to encourage your special needs students to play and explore their surroundings. Social skills and interpersonal communication provide a foundation for a child’s future and helps determine their development in school, with friends, with employers, and within a household. Our Being With People and PeopleSmart series will teach your students the essential social skills needed to promote graceful social interactions and to establish positive relations with friends, dates, family, housemates, authority figures, and more. Click here to browse through all our social and life skill products![/box]

The Stanfield Way

The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.

Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.

Stanfield Special Education Curriculum

VideoModeling® Programs

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Using Humor to Teach Social Skills

Humor = Retention

We believe you learn best when you laugh. By making the classroom experience more comfortable and enjoyable, humor can make teaching and learning more effective, especially for the K12 segment. At Stanfield, we use humor as an integral part of our curricula.

If you as a speaker don’t help your audience to remember your lessons, then you’re wasting everyone’s time. Humor… can help accomplish that needed retention…

Gean Perret, Screenwriter
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