Article at a Glance

  • Play is an important part of child development and helps children develop emotional, physical, and cognitive skills.
  • In recent decades play time has been reduced in school and at home in favor of academics and organized activities.
  • Simplify your life so that you have enough time in your day to spend unscheduled and unstructured time playing with your child.

Parents who want their children to excel might be tempted to over-schedule and push aside free play to make more room for enrichment or academic activities. But experts worry that this might have the opposite effect.

Play is actually a very important part of child development. It is so important that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as a basic right for every child and the American Academy of Pediatrics continually advocates for more free play.

To the causal observer, playing might look like a whole lot of goofing off. But children are actually busy fostering some very important skills. Playing helps:

  • Build dexterity and physical strength while developing children’s sensory systems.
  • Foster creativity by allowing children to create their own worlds and rules.
  • Develop cognitive thinking and problem solving.
  • Build emotional strength by allowing children to conquer fears and practice adult roles.
  • Develop social skills such as the ability to share, work in groups, resolve conflicts, and negotiate.
  • Children practice decision-making skills and to discover their own interests.
  • Parents engage in their children’s world and develop enduring relationships.

By limiting the time children have to play, we prevent children from learning the skills they need to be resilient and contributing members of society. As a result they are more likely to suffer from problems like obesity, anxiety, stress, attention-deficit disorder, and depression.

Unfortunately play time has taken a serious hit in recent decades. Compared to the 1980s, the average American child gets 8 to 12 fewer hours of playtime per week. In schools, recess is being reduced or cut out to make room for more academics. And while organized activities and sports are good for children, they are squeezing out important, unstructured playtime.

Each child and family is different and has different needs, but here are some things you can do to make sure your child is getting enough play time.

  • Find out how much recess your child is getting at school each week and make sure that recess does not get cut from the schedule.
  • Be sure to keep a balance between structured activities like lessons and supervised sports, and creative, spontaneous play.
  • Let your children know that they don’t always have to be “on.” It is important to make time to relax and reflect.
  • Limit time spent watching TV, surfing online, playing video games, or talking on the phone.
  • Encourage your child to go outside and play.
  • Buy toys that encourage open-ended play and that promote creativity.
  • Simplify your life so that you have enough time in your day to spend unscheduled and unstructured time playing with your child.
  • Watch your children for signs of burn out. Rather than requiring your children to be involved in certain activities, find out what they are interested in doing.

Most importantly, make sure your focus isn’t just on academic success but on helping your child develop into a well-balanced and healthy person.

Learn More:
The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (American Academy of Pediatrics)

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The Importance of Playing

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