Seems obvious that kids of all ages need time to play. But how and when kids play seems to be at risk these days because of how it is defined and interpreted, growing use of media and the increasing pressures at home or in school to allot for kids time every moment of the day. I am an advocate for real unstructured “play” time at home and at school.
Kids spend more time online these days with the plethora of devices now available to our children–iphones, the Wii, DS machines, and home computers– that they can be plugged in all the time. Although I think there is a downside to excessive media use, I think the digital world opens many exciting opportunities for kids when used appropriately. I believe the bigger sabotage to our children’s play time is over-scheduling, leaving them little or no free-time and providing them, from an early age, with toys and games that seem designed for a single purpose rather than an open-ended toy (like chalk or a ball) and the time for kids to use their imagination to come up with their own games and ways to play.
I see it all around me, parents feeling the pressure to sign up their kids even before they can walk, for music, art, and sports only to continue or increase once the kids start school. After-school activities pile up in addition to homework as early as kindergarten in some schools. I am not against signing my kids up for any classes and extra activities (my boys have enjoyed art, swimming, fencing, and film club over the years) but I believe we must find a balance of structured learning and play with unstructured play time.
My boys are in elementary school in the Providence Public School system. Although not a perfect system, we have been happy with their school – we love the teachers, involved parents and the supportive local community. What seems to be spiraling out of control and to the detriment of our kids is scheduling them nearly every minute of the day for their required classes with little or no time left for recess or free play during the school day.
In Jill Davidson’s past Kidoinfo article, Recess Play and Learning:
She acknowledges the State and district mandates for formal, structured teaching and learning that occupies most of the available minutes of the standard elementary school day but questions how effective kids are able to learn when recess is squeezed out. She says “As documented in “School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior,” published in the February 2009 volume of Pediatrics, the American Association of Pediatrics’ journal, when kids have time for recess–at least 15 minutes per day–there’s a clear correlation between unstructured play and academic achievement.”
It’s no surprise that Providence Children’s Museum is a big advocate of play. They understand how kids learn, explore and discover new things. I applaud them for their active role in the community through their blog, PlayWatch listserv and recent conversation on Tuesday, Kids, Play and Risk about the importance of play. Play is not just for little kids but should be carried on in some way into adulthood.
I want our kids to love learning, get along with others, be independent thinkers and to be creative problem solvers. These skills will make them ready for the rest of their lives. Some of these necessary life skills are not taught but acquired during recess on the playground, after-school in the neighborhood.
Make room in your schedule for free-time. Allow the kids to play, be bored, figure out what to do or time to think and just be.
Read more on GoLocalProv. Every week I share tips on how families can make the most of their family time – including helpful hints that make parenting easier and connecting you to great local happenings.