Its time to let kids play

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According to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) it is important that children are allowed to have free and unstructured play to help them achieve important milestones in their lives and to ensure future well being.

The authors have written the report because they are concerned that for many children free play and unscheduled time is being threatened by many aspects of modern society and family life and they fear that many parents have forgotten or do not understand how important free play is for children.

The report says such free play helps them with their social, emotional and cognitive development as well as helping them to manage stress and become resilient.

Changes in family structure, the increasingly competitive college admissions process, and federal education policies that have led to reduced recess and physical education in many schools, are all contributing factors in the erosion of free playtime.

Experts have been saying for decades that play protects children's emotional development, and a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for many children, says the AAP report.

The report says that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare children for success come not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modeling and guidance.

But many parents are so concerned that their children will fall behind they convince themselves that proper parenthood entails participating in a lifestyle which packs in as many activities as possible.

The report also suggests that reduced time for physical activity may be a factor in the academic differences which appear between boys and girls, as schools with sedentary learning styles become more difficult settings for some boys to navigate successfully.

The report makes some sound and common sense suggestions and emphasizes the benefits of "true toys", such as blocks and dolls, in which children use their imagination fully rather than passive toys that require limited imagination.

It calls for appropriately challenging academic schedules for children which are balanced with extracurricular activities based a child's unique needs and not on competitive community standards or the need to gain college admissions.

The report wants more help for parents to evaluate products or interventions claiming to produce "super-children", and perhaps most importantly wants to encourage parents to understand that each young person does not need to excel in multiple areas to be considered successful or prepared to compete in the real world.

The report suggests that families should choose childcare and early education programs that meet children's social and emotional developmental needs as well as academic preparedness.

The authors recognise that academic enrichment opportunities are vital for some children's ability to succeed academically, and that participation in organized activities promotes healthy youth development, but it stresses that a balance must be struck that allows all children to reach their potential, without pushing them beyond their personal comfort limits, and while allowing them personal free time.

Experts are hoping parents will get the message and not bend to the pressure to try to create "super children".

The report "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds," is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and a web site has information on stress reduction and coping skills, as well as a stress management plan teens can personalize to fit their personalities and lifestyles.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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