Do kids have too much time to play?

I believe in the importance of play. That is part of the reason why we homeschool – I want my girls to have more time to play. There are so many great benefits of play, so why do we start limiting it from a young age? This is a question I wrestle with – especially when I see preschools becoming more academically focused. 

children playing in ball pit

WHY IS PLAY TIME IMPORTANT?

It is vital we understand the importance of play in child development. Pediatricians get it. Teachers get it. Yet somehow along the way, it is sort of forgotten as a whole as we strive to get our children ahead academically by doing formal lessons earlier and earlier. We are expecting our children to sit for longer times than their little bodies are capable of. Play goes to the wayside.

Play is important because of the skills they develop, such as:

  • Flexible thinking
  • Facing and overcoming fears
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Processing emotions
  • Trying new things

And they do learn how to take turns and share, to deal with conflict, and make mistakes. Our children will also discover their interests and passions. They will also hone their skills and abilities.

children having outside play time

DEVELOPMENT OF PLAY

There are many different kinds of play (like fantasy, dramatic, role play, etc.) but did you know there are developmental stages of play?  I have been asked about these recently, and I think that there is some confusion as to the stages. Your children will grow through them all, and there are approximate ages for each stage. 

Here are the 6 stages of play:

  • Unoccupied play – 0-3 months. At this stage the baby is just making a lot of bodily movements. They are learning about and discovering how their body moves.
  • Solitary play – 0-2 years. This is when a child plays alone. They are not interested in playing with others quite yet.
  • Onlooker play – 2 years. During this stage a child begins to watch other children playing but does not play with them.
  • Parallel play – 2-3 years. This is when a child plays alongside or near others but does not play with them.
  • Associate play – 2-3 years. This is when a child starts to interact with others during play, but there is not a large amount of interaction. A child might be doing an activity related to the kids around him, but might not actually be interacting with another child. 
  • Cooperative/social play – 4-6 years. When a child plays together with others and has interest in both the activity and other children involved in playing.

After this, children are going to get more sophisticated in their play. This is where imagination is going to take hold and you will see more fantasy and creative play. 

girl with down syndrome playing with blocks

HOW MUCH PLAY TIME?

If I were to give an answer it would simply be “as much time as possible”. I encourage my girls to be playing whenever they are not actively involved in learning activities. But you might be surprised at what the recommendations are that I found online. And the answers vary:

  • Children should spend at least two hours a day playing. At least half of this time should be free-play, where the child controls the activity.
  • The AAP wrote on its website that ideally, at minimum, children should receive 30 minutes of instructor or parent-guided play each day, and at least one hour of unobstructed, uncomplicated free playtime.
  • On average children today need 30-60 minutes of ‘play time’ everyday. 

I am going to be honest. This makes me sad. I think it should be more than 2 hours. Yes, we have the luxury because we are not in school and limited to outside of school hours. But I would love to see more play time for children in school too. I have been following some early childhood teachers on social media who are going back to play (moving away from academics) and this makes me happy.

girls playing on swings

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT PLAY?

I think that we need to get back to encouraging play. It is not just for unwinding after school or for staying out of our hair while we get dinner ready. It is a fundamental part of childhood. 

This is part of why we do the 1000 hour outside challenge. It is not just outdoor activities, but outdoor play (building shelters, using the mud kitchen, happy unstructured play!)

I think that schools need to get back to more recess time so the children can play and unwind between lessons. Let’s play!

Here are some other posts on play:
Play and Learn
Imaginative Play

5 Comments

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    It is also important to spend some time with grandparents. They give children love and support that they need.
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