My son sent me an excellent article on “The Serious Need for Play” in Scientific American. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown has been studying the effects of a childhood deprived of free play. He has found that children who lack the opportunity to play freely in an unstructured environment, utilizing their imagination and pretend skills, can be hindered from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults. Free play is essential for children to grow into socially healthy adults. The article goes on to outline the benefits of a child’s free play–developing healthy social skills, relieving stress, and fostering creative thinking ultimately building academic skills.
Why be concerned about this? Because as a society we are slowly decreasing the time we leave open for free play for our kids. According to this article, “According to a paper published in 2005 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, children’s free-play time dropped by a quarter between 1981 and 1997. Concerned about getting their kids into the right colleges, parents are sacrificing playtime for more structured activities. As early as preschool, youngsters’ after-school hours are now being filled with music lessons and sports—reducing time for the type of imaginative and rambunctious cavorting that fosters creativity and cooperation.” How many days a week is your child “scheduled?” Maybe it is time to reassess and make sure there is a balance of “free” time to have some open play. I encounter some families who can hardly fit in a play date because of dance, soccer, art or music class. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for sports and the arts but don’t let them take over your child’s world.
Locally, this argument is played out when school systems decrease recess time as kids get older, thinking it unnecessary compared to using the time for academics. Studies have shown that free play can actually help children retain concepts taught. Certainly it is valuable for building language, as kids on the playground declare a log a stage, assigning roles to carry out a play, take an imaginary nature walk, or make up a game with the balls available.