What happened to Playtime?

A disturbing trend in our modern society is the way that parents turn their children’s’ days into regimented routines of organized, adult-led extracurricular activities like soccer practice, piano class, and dance recitals along with other time consuming functions and commitments. We do all of this at the expense of free play, discovery and exploration, relaxing downtime, and far too-often, family meals.

Long gone, it would seem, are the days of homework followed by ample free time, usually outside and with no rules or commitments, just plain fun and running around being silly with friends, all before a sit down family dinner.

It doesn’t really have to be that way.

National Public Radio has broadcast an expose on this topic interviewing several children who discuss their “workloads” and several experts on the subject of child rearing and playtime. The report is available online and is accompanied by an excerpt from “The Power of Play”, the forthcoming book by David Elkind, which examines how the absence of imaginative free play can impact our kids’ ability to grow up healthy and happy.

Another possible outcome of allowing, even encouraging, our children to participate in almost every activity available to them is our collective inability, as parents, to teach our kids to make choices. How can we ever discuss the need to make choices in life, some of which can be quite difficult, if we as adults push our children farther and faster into the same world of over-abundance, anxiety, and excess that our culture makes out to be the norm?

So what can you and your family do to curb this trend?

The first step should be to schedule a sit down family meal, now I know it is not easy with our crazy schedules and extra work hours, but even if it begins as just a once a week dinner, it is a great habit to cultivate (if you do not already make this a part of your daily lives).

Recapture the tradition of sharing this important time together and learning more about each other, by actually speaking to one another, no phones allowed. At dinner you can talk to your kids about their day. Slow down, unwind, and revel in what they can come up with on their own. Let your kids speak their mind without interruption, however long that make take. Get to really know your child.

Next, (and this may be more difficult for your family to do than it is for me to type) scale back on the activities next season. Allow your kids the opportunity to make tough choices when it comes to scheduling their time. This will be hard if your young ones have not had to pick one event, sport, or activity over another in the past, but it will be worth it as they slowly learn the value of their own time, and yours! Make sure they have free afternoons to enjoy their childhood!

Do not over schedule yourselves or your children. Leave some weeknights open for free play and dinners. The key is to always be doing so together. Studies show  that this simple act will result in a child that is 50% less likely to smoke, drink, or try drugs.

Seems worth the little bit of effort required, no?

Remember that being “bored” is not a horrible thing, it is good for your children creativity! Boredom can open doors to creativity and healthy independence, and you will see their true interests and passions flourish. Kids who are often entertained lack the skills and therefore need to be encouraged to plan and take control of their alone or quiet time.

As they grow, adulthood may consume them with schedules, tasks and so much responsibility! So why don’t we just let them have their childhood for a while longer! 🙂




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