Summer is fast approaching. It’s the perfect time to think about the benefits of free time for kids. “Play is really important for young children, for social and cognitive development,” said psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., a child development researcher at Temple University. “And yet we’re taking it away.”
In fact, according to Tufts University psychologist David Elkind, Ph.D., children today have eight fewer hours of free, unstructured playtime a week than they had 20 years ago — time now spent on organized sports, video games and educational computer programs, among other activities.
Unstructured play is time children spend creating their own activities. When left to their own devices, children take initiative and create activities and stories in the world around them.
The outdoors is especially rich with opportunities, where sticks, sand boxes, leaves, rocks, and hills, naturally lend themselves to exploration and creation.
According to a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in Volume 119, No. 1 of Pediatrics, play is essential to a child’s development. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace and discover their own areas of interest.
Disappearing playtime at home and in schools stems from our concerns as a society and as parents. We live in a competitive society. Some parents feel it’s more productive to keep their kids constantly occupied. They might also feel that their kids will miss out on key experiences if they aren’t doing what other kids are doing. As parents, we want what is best for our kids. But kids’ lives today can easily become overly structured and overscheduled. This hectic lifestyle can be stressful on parents as well as children.