Parents or grandparents who for a long time have been bemoaning the fact that children's waking hours must be structured to the exclusion of time to simply goof off or play now have a very powerful ally.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a report called, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. In this study, they encourage parents (and give them permission) to allow for more time for their kids to engage in play " not adult-driven and supervised play, but child-driven play.
"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. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children."
The study acknowledges that for children in impoverished or dangerous situations, child-driven play is essential, but could face many challenges.
The children and parents more specifically targeted in the report are those who are "fortunate enough to have abundant available resources and who live in relative peace (who) may not be receiving the full benefits of play."
This means children who live in places like Winona, Minnesota, and its environs. "American children with adequate resources may be limited from enjoying the full developmental assets associated with play because of a family's hurried lifestyle as well as an increased focus on the fundamentals of academic preparation in lieu of a broader view of education."
The report points out that it is not only the family that has curtailed free, unstructured time for kids to play, but also schools that have reduced recess time, thinking that more structured academic time will increase students' scores on reading and math tests, when it may actually have the opposite effect.
The report acknowledges the pressures put on parents by the schools, college expectations, and marketers of "enrichment programs," "educational toys" and extracurricular programs. I would add to that list parents' own peers, who seek to validate their own and their kids' harried lifestyles by elevating the importance of such frantic activity loudly and forcefully. This is put more kindly by the report. "It is left to parents to judge appropriate levels of involvement, but many parents seem to feel as though they are running on a treadmill to keep up, yet dare not slow their pace for fear their children will fall behind. Further, some worry they will not be acting as proper parents if they do not participate in this hurried lifestyle." "Some of the best interactions occur during downtime"just talking, preparing meals together, and working on a hobby or art project, playing sports together, or being fully immersed in child-centered play."
What I see often happening as well is that some parents are so driven in their jobs away from home that in order to get them to spend time on anything to do with their children, if it is presented as an activity that is "scheduled," the parent will, or can be forced to, then schedule that into his or her overly-busy day.
But, you say, "my child loves all his activities, and is doing fine." The fact is, however, that not all children do well in such highly charged situations, and the report points out that when these children who have been leading such highly-structured lives reach college age, they often experience significant problems.
The report stresses that for play to be most beneficial, it must be active and child-driven, not passive (television and computers, even "educational").
I would encourage all parents, teachers, and other child advocates (caregivers, grandparents, for instance) to read the entire report, which is available at www.aap.org. We will be doing our children and ourselves a great favor by bringing moderation into our lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this report is a springboard for change toward sensible parenting that does not stress children, their parents and family resources? Wouldn't it be fun to once again see children running around the neighborhood playing childhood games?