UCF teaches parents how to play with their children, why it’s so important

Child’s ‘play’ reduces stress, bonds families, develops children

ORLANDO, Fla. – University of Central Florida researchers have discovered one of the simplest stress relievers for families, now and during the height of the pandemic, is plain old child’s play.

Really, the researchers firmly believe parents playing with their children is helping the kids develop and families bond. The researchers also discovered some parents didn’t know how to play with their children. So they started teaching them.

Mom Marie Anne Desroches, of Haitian descent, never learned.

[TRENDING: Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

“Me growing up, they always tell you sit down, watch TV,” Desroches said. “My people never played with me. With my kids I really didn’t play. I read and was teaching them, but I really didn’t play and have fun.”

Desroches drops off her 3-year-old weekdays at Orlando Day Nursery in Orlando’s Parramore community, where UCF began its pilot “play” program.

“It’s good for them because they do need social skills, I have bad social skills, I used to pass out in speech class and I could never talk to people,” Desroches said.

Dr. Katie Philp, research and evaluation manager at UCF’s Parramore Education and Innovation District, helped invent the program.

“It’s neurologically important in social skills development, social and behavioral,” Philp said. “They learn rules through play, they learn our social norms through play.”

Philp researched the importance of play at UCF’s Downtown Orlando campus in Parramore and discovered short, simple lessons while parents are dropping off or picking up at daycares are the most effective way to teach parents about play without burdening them.

Philp calls the program Play Pop-Ups.

“We pop up, we show up at our early childhood partners particularly during the course of the pandemic,” Philp said. “We didn’t want to spend a lot of time in close contact and wanted to keep everyone safe. But we knew especially during the pandemic how important play would be for stress reduction.”

Desroches said Play Pop-Ups brought sanity and stress relief to her family during the height of the pandemic.

“During COVID I really didn’t know what to do, I lost my job during COVID, my kids were out of school so it was a stressful moment for me,” Desroches said. “How am I going to pay my bills and do all this stuff. Just getting this time where I don’t have to worry and taking 30 minutes out of my day it was a stress reliever for me. And also the anxiety calmed me down and my kids down.”

UCF researchers also learned that parents playing with their children continues to relief stress.

“And we are seeing a lot of continued stress not just from the pandemic but from the economic recession and so now more than ever play is going to be a critical part for our children,” Philp said.

Desroches said she and her children are better for it.

“I’ve been in Parramore all my life,” Desroches said. “A lot of parents I feel like we’re being better parents towards our kids and ourselves. It’s bettering me as a parent and bettering myself.”

Already around 40 kids have learned how to play at Orlando Day Nursery through the UCF partnership and around 100 kids at the Rosen preschool also in Parramore.

Philp said the plan now is to expand Play Pop-Ups to all of the daycare facilities in Parramore.

If you’d like to get your child involved, send an email to innovation@ucf.edu.

Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily:

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for News 6 and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting.