Let your child reap the benefits of free play

Let your child reap the benefits of free play

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says many kids aren't, and has urged doctors to call attention to the problem by prescribing regular play sessions to children in their care.

Kids today get less playtime than in decades past, according to the AAP's report. Between 1981 and 1997, children's playtime decreased by 25 percent, one study found. And research shows almost a third of U.S. kindergartners no longer have recess.

Many schools and even preschools today are too focused on academic learning, leaving kids little time for unstructured play, the AAP says. Outside of school, children's schedules are often packed with extra-curricular activities – soccer practice, violin lessons, dance classes, tutoring – so kids don't get much downtime, according to the academy's report. Add to the mix electronic devices, parents working full time, and a lack of safe outdoor spaces, and you have a recipe for a playtime deficit.

Play is critical to your child's development. It helps the brain function properly and allows your child to learn skills essential for later success. These include:

  • Social skills
  • Collaboration
  • Problem solving
  • Creative thinking
  • Stress management
  • Focus
  • Self-regulation
  • Self-expression

Depending on the type of activity, play can also get your child outdoors, develop his physical skills and – if you play together – strengthen the bond between you.

Encouraging your child to play is easy. You don't need fancy equipment or extravagant games. Here are a few ideas for promoting play to get you started:

  • Imaginative play: Keep a box of everyday items that your child can use during pretend play. You can include kid versions of adult objects such as play telephones and plastic dishes to facilitate role-playing, as well as toys with various uses such as colored blocks.
  • Physical play: Go outside and ride bikes together, kick a soccer ball, or build a sandcastle in a box. Or stay inside and dance to music, toss beanbags, or play hide-and-seek.
  • Social play: Organize play dates for your child. Introduce games or activities and keep an eye on your child's behavior and progress to see which social skills he's mastering and what he may need help with.

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