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Campaign says child-directed play can reduce stress, build confidence during pandemic

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Two local nonprofits this week launched an effort to help families with young children cope during the pandemic.

The "Please Play" campaign focuses on child-directed play, which is exactly what it sounds like: A child and a trusted adult play, and the kid gets to call the shots.

"It taps into the curiosity and creativity of children. It allows for them to become resilient. It allows them to problem-solve," explained Ashley Cross, executive director of Generation Two (G2), which works to strengthen the social and emotional lives of children.

The organization partnered with the Strong National Museum of Play to create videos of what child-directed play looks like.  In one of the videos, a mother and daughter are playing the game Chutes and Ladders. The girl decides to take a unique path around the game board -- a path that isn't necessarily within the game's rules.

Cross said that especially in situations like this, when adults may have the urge to correct kids, they should suppress that urge.

"We feel like we know what's best for them," she said, "but in child-directed play, what we're doing is we're allowing children to show us what they feel like, in that moment, is best for them and that really strengthens their social-emotional health."

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Cross said the confidence and relationship-building that result from child-directed play are especially important now as kids and grownups adjust to all the changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Even with children going back into schools come the fall, there's still going to be a level of stress that they are undergoing," she said, "that their teachers are undergoing, and that their parents are undergoing, and play is going to be an essential coping strategy -- an outlet for everyone involved."

She recommends 20 to 30 minutes of self-directed play each day for children of all ages.

This fall, the campaign plans to bring mobile workshops into the community.