Do Your Children Lack Playtime?

In the modern, fast-paced world we inhabit, one might pause and ponder, “Do Your Children Lack Playtime?” In the days of yore, children relished more leisure moments, with downtime being a vital part of their routine. However, today’s children still find ways to imbibe play, albeit these methods might be starkly different from the ones their parents used to employ.

My son, daughter, and the friend of my son were all lounging about on the couch the day before Thanksgiving while I hurriedly tried to get ready for the holiday. I noticed that the kids were unusually quiet, and when I looked around, I realized that although they were sitting close together, they were all staring at individual screens. Good weather today. I instructed them to “go outside and play” as I ushered them out the door. There was some complaining and rolling of eyes at first, but then they ran about our yard for the next two hours playing what appeared to be a makeshift form of football. They seemed to have forgotten how much they value free time in the great outdoors.

Peter Gray, Ph.D., a research professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, says this isn’t surprising because we’ve been taking away more and more of kids’ free time every decade since the mid-1960s. There is less time for play since the school day and year have gotten longer, and recess has been eliminated out of a misguided fear that our children will be harmed if we aren’t constantly monitoring their whereabouts. Independence, responsibility, problem-solving, and the ability to make one’s own choices are all life skills that should begin in childhood. And play is nature’s method of making sure kids get plenty of work on those vital life skills.

Recovery Time Is Necessary

Most kids, including mine, don’t get that much free playtime every day. Homework and other after-school commitments often leave little room for relaxation throughout the school week. My daughter’s second-grade teacher last year often let her class have extra time outside on sunny days; this was a detail she was eager to relay to me when I picked her up and one that I thoroughly enjoyed hearing. I contacted her previous teacher, René Blume-Meagher, and inquired how she managed to keep her kids engaged while also preventing them from falling behind academically. There is time for anything if the teaching is good. And when they’re playing, I get to have conversations with them that would never happen during class or while I’m handing out homework. Consequently, I am better able to identify their abilities and capitalize on their interests as students.

Despite the obvious advantages of recess, it appears to be undervalued in classrooms across the country. An unscientific Facebook poll of the parents I know revealed that, on average, their children receive only 15-30 minutes of recess each day, if any. Old-school activities like kickball and Four Square are still popular, which is encouraging given the short length of this sabbatical. Our school system’s sixth graders and their teachers are aware that this is their last year of recess. I’m sorry to see it go, but the kids really needed that time.

Catherine Ramstetter, Ph.D., a co-author of The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy on Recess and a founding member of the Global Recess Alliance, an organization of health and education leaders committed to the preservation of recess, argues that cutting recess time in order to increase classroom time is counterproductive. We won’t be able to take in new knowledge until we allow our brains a chance to reboot. It’s like trying to fill a cup that’s already full.

Promote Independent Play

With society increasingly prioritizing work over unrestrained leisure time, how can parents ensure their children avoid play deprivation, a condition linked to depression and anxiety? Surprisingly, one of the finest things we can do is step back and let our kids play independently, whether in the great outdoors, inside, or even online. Children will inevitably be told what to do by adults, no matter how well-intentioned those individuals may be. But when kids play with other kids, they’re working out compromises and finding common ground to accomplish shared goals. Or, if they’re playing alone, they might learn something about themselves and their interests or abilities that will help them in the workplace.

The desire to micromanage our children’s every waking moment is strong, but allowing them time to play independently (within safe boundaries) is essential for their development, especially as they mature into young adults. Don’t micromanage your children when they’re with their pals. Allowing your child to grow up without you around doesn’t make you a bad parent.

Also, it’s okay if your kids prefer playing video games over running around outside. Playing video games improves the sorts of intelligence evaluated by IQ tests, such as the capacity to think rapidly, make quick and accurate decisions, and hold multiple bits of knowledge in mind at once. And they encourage children to interact with their peers in a social setting. If you have children of varying ages, they can also serve as a great levelers.

Ramstetter suggests inquiring as to whether or not your child has a recess (most parents think this is the case), what they play at recess, and whether or not they have ever been denied recess as a form of punishment. The importance of recess is being championed by parents all around the country. Parents hold a lot of sway.

And while I’d rather have my kids outside than play Fortnite, I plan to follow Gray’s suggestion and let them play however they like. When kids get away from their parents, they take command of their own life. One of the nicest things I can provide kids is the freedom to express themselves this way.

Meaningful articles you might like: Children’s Games And The Power of Play, The Value of Play For Parents, The Power of Playtime