Doctor's Orders: Kids Should Play More
Children Need Free Playtime for Healthy Development
Oct. 10, 2006 -- Forget the mad dash from school to soccer practice to
tutoring and then music lessons. What children need today is less scheduling
and more playtime to foster healthy development.
A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents to
allow children more unscheduled time for good, old-fashioned play to help them
manage stress and reach their
"Play is essential to development as it contributes to the cognitive,
physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also
offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their
children," write report authors Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS, Ed, and
colleagues at the AAP. "Despite the benefits derived from play for both
children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some
Playtime Is Healthy for Kids
Researchers say the report, released at a national AAP conference this week,
is written in defense of play and against forces threatening free play and
unscheduled time for children, such as more single-parent or two working-parent
homes, increasingly competitive college admissions policies, and reduced recess
and physical education in schools.
They say unstructured playtime fosters children's imagination and dexterity
and helps them reach important physical, cognitive, and emotional milestones
and manage stress.
In contrast, a loss of free time through overscheduling of planned
activities can be a source of stress for children and could lead to depression.
How to Bring Playtime Back
The report recommends several steps to help parents slow the pace for
themselves and their children, including:
Emphasize the benefits of "true toys" such as blocks and dolls, in
which children fully use their imagination, over passive toys such as video
games that require limited imagination.
Support an appropriately challenging academic schedule for each child with a
balance of extracurricular activities. This should be based on each child's
unique needs and not on competitive community standards or need to gain college
Be skeptical about claims by marketers and advertisers about products or
interventions designed to produce "super children."
Remember that each young person does not need to excel in multiple areas to
be considered successful or prepared for the real world. Let children explore
different interests freely.
Choose child care and early education programs that meet children's social
and emotional developmental needs as well as academic preparedness.
"The challenge for society, schools, and parents is to strike the
balance that allows all children to reach their potential, without pushing them
beyond their personal comfort limits, and while allowing them personal free
time," write the authors.