CHICAGO: Here's some soothing medicine for stressed-out parents and
overscheduled kids worldwide: The American Academy of Paediatrics says what
children really need for healthy development is more good, old-fashioned
Many parents load their children's schedules with get-smart videos,
enrichment activities and lots of classes in a drive to help them excel. The
efforts often begin as early as infancy.
Spontaneous, free play whether it's chasing butterflies, playing with "true
toys" like blocks and dolls, or just romping on the floor with Mum and Dad often
is sacrificed in the shuffle, a new academy report says.
Jennifer Gervasio has a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter involved in
preschool three mornings weekly, plus T-ball and ballet for each one day a week.
That's a light schedule compared with those of her kids' friends, and Gervasio
said her son in particular has trouble finding buddies who are free to come over
and just play.
"There's just such a huge variety of things you can do for your kids if you
have the resources, you almost feel, 'why not?' " said Gervasio, of suburban
Chicago. "There is a part of me that would worry: If I don't sign my son up for
some of these things, will he not be on par with the other kids?"
For now, she says, she resists the pressure, instead allowing her kids plenty
of time to look for bugs, romp at the beach and other play activities they love
"I truly believe that they're better off when they can just do their own
thing," Gervasio said.
Numerous studies have shown that unstructured play has many benefits. It can
help children become creative, discover their own passions, develop
problem-solving skills, relate to others and adjust to school settings, the
academy report says.
"Perhaps above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of
childhood," says the report, prepared by two academy committees for release
yesterday at the group's annual meeting in Atlanta.
A lack of spontaneous playtime can create stress for children and parents
alike. If it occurs because young children are plopped in front of get-smart
videos or older children lose school recess time, it can increase risks for
obesity. It may even contribute to depression for many children, the report
Social pressures and marketing pitches about creating "super children"
contribute to a lack of playtime for many families. But so does living in
low-income, violence-prone neighbourhoods where safe places to play are scarce,
the report says.
It says enrichment tools and organized activities can be beneficial but
should not be viewed as a requirement for creating successful children. Above
all, they must be balanced with plenty of free play time, the report says.