Children need plenty of time to play. That means parents need to schedule them less. Play is the natural way that children learn critical thinking, resilience, and social skills. Play also enhances creativity, problem solving and cooperation.
What type of play should they have? The play can be with other children or with you the parent. But it must be free play. That means it is play where children have the chance to make things up as they go, and adults are not telling them what to do. There are so many different kinds of play: including rough and tumble physical play, outdoor running around play, playing with toys, such as blocks or pretend play. Any type will provide benefits, as long as the children are free to choose on their own what they want to do.
What pediatricians say about play According to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics “play is not frivolous.” Play teaches children the kinds of life skills we want them to have as adults: collaboration, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, decision-making, and leadership. Play even reduces stress and can help protect kids growing up with toxic levels of stress due to poverty and other sources of childhood adversity.
Children are being robbed of time to play This is because in recent years, even well-meaning parents and schools tend to over emphasize academics and scheduled activities in the hopes of giving children a greater chance of success in life. Statistics show that as the time devoted to recess has dwindled, the time devoted to preparing for standardized tests has increased. As children’s stress levels are going up because of increasing academic pressures, the time they have for play, which is the natural outlet for stress, is going down. It is not a good recipe for child development.
The evidence is mounting in favor of play, especially for younger children. Time spent with your child playing and providing them time to play with others, will reap all positive benefits you as a parent want for your child. Children who have enough time for free play do better in school, with friends and later on in the workplace. They will even have a deeper relationship with you. Free play is a key ingredient in childhood well-being and success.
It is time to reverse course and re-prioritize play This requires a shift in mindset away from stressing academics, to emphasizing more room for playtime. The shift will be challenging. Many may fear giving up all the focus on academics. Parents may feel too exhausted to play with their kids and therefore opt to let kids spend more time with screens, or get their kids out of the house with scheduled activities. Parents can’t do this alone. The whole community needs to get in the act. Parents and educators will need information to motivate them to make these changes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has gotten off to a great start. They believe in the benefits of play so strongly, that they are urging pediatricians to actually ‘prescribe play.’ The good news is, play will be a prescription that doesn’t cost anything has no side effects, no bad taste and is easy to give.
You can read what is in the American Academy of Pediatrics report: Want Creative, Curious, Healthier Children with 21st Century Skills? Let Them Play
Written by Regina Pally, Founder and Co-Director CRC