Is My Child Playing Enough?

posted on May 13, 2013 08:48am by
On this week’s radio show, I interviewed Darell Hammond, the Founder and CEO of, Sarah Stern, Deputy Director of Development for Right to Play’s Canadian office, and Jill Amery, founder of and a recent play ambassador for Right to Play, about the transformative power of play. If you've listened to the show and are now a play believer, you may be wondering how to determine whether your own children are getting enough unstructured play.
I recommend that you start by taking an inventory of what your children do each day. Add up the hours each child spends at school, on homework and other academic enrichment activities, and on sports and other structured activities. How much free play is he or she getting? You may be surprised at what you find. If the amount of child directed play is overly limited, commit to restore a healthy balance. If there’s no time for your child to play independently and with friends, you may need to cut back somewhere. Look at what activities you can eliminate and make sure that the ones that remain are enjoyable, and not just for “resume” building. Organized sports, for example, can be great for exercise and learning teamwork, but they must be fun, and they don't substitute for the benefits gained by unstructured play. If your child seems overly anxious, it may be another sign that he is over scheduled and needs more time just to play.
When your child is playing with you or with others, hard as it may be, try to resist over-instructing. Allow your son or daughter to explore roles and experiment with rules. Try to allow some risk. Failure is important for children and play is a great way to build up resilience. Discourage toys that do the work for a child. Kids today will get plenty of electronic interaction so don't feel compelled to add more into that mix. You are better off filling your child's play space with dolls, jump ropes, balls, blocks, pails, etc, or as Darell Hammond talks about, loose parts like cardboard, tubing, etc. Think about promoting games that enhance your child’s emotional resilience and focus, like Simon Says, and fostering complex imaginative play. Don’t forget to kick your children out of the house. Playing outside leads to enhanced physical development, less childhood obesity, vitamin D exposure (better brain & physical health), fewer ADHD symptoms, better distance vision, and even higher test scores!
When choosing a daycare, preschool, or elementary school, ask how much time is spent on play and what kind of play (free play, supervised, or planned play) and factor those answers into your decision making process. If you have the energy, try working with your neighbors to  make your neighborhood a play friendly community. If there are insufficient kids on your street or it’s not safe for play, schedule playdates or organize a playgroup for your young child. Playdate Planet can help make playdate scheduling quick and easy.
Now that you are armed with information, become a play champion and help reverse the play deficit. You can start by sharing your knowledge with other parents, school officials, and policymakers. Find out whether your child is getting recess at school and, if so, how much. If the time for outdoor play is insufficient, schedule a meeting with the school superintendent or principal or rally parents to appear before the school board. Make your voice heard to reverse the pushdown of the first grade curriculum to kindergarten and support teacher education that emphasizes development of the whole child, including the importance of play. Before voting for elected officials, find out where they stand on the movement for increased standardized testing.Take a playground tour of your hometown and participate in KaBoom’s playground mapping project. Are there safe, well-maintained places for children to play close to where you live? If not, lobby or join with others to build a park or playground in your area. You can apply to Kaboom for assistance. We especially need playgrounds in inner city neighborhoods. For children facing the challenges of poverty, play is a critically important tool to build up their resilience and help them take on their fears and create a world they can master. If building a playground is not an option, you can advocate for allocating a safe space in an under resourced neighborhood, perhaps by making available a school, library, or other community facility for use by children and parents for play and socialization after school hours and on weekends. If you have the time, you can volunteer at a Boys or Girls Club or other organization that provides after-school engagement for children. Stay informed by subscribing to the many blogs and twitter feeds that promote the cause of play. And don’t forget to lead by example; demonstrate the importance of play by playing yourself!
Please share what suggestions you have for adding play into your child's life.
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