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How Much Playtime Does My Child Need?

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How Much Playtime Does My Child Need?

Nov 26, 2018

Children as young as two years old are seeing an increased prescription for playtime—it can stimulate creativity and offsets secondhand stress. Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner highlights the health benefits that come from simply letting kids be kids and has tips on how you can help your child be a child.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: It sounds crazy, but what if at your child's next well visit your child gets a prescription to play as much as possible? Yes, play is that important. And I'll talk about that today on The Scope.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the "Healthy Kids Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: For too long, parents have been stressing over which toys to buy, which apps are the most educational for our children, what will help stimulate their brains the most. Well, what if I told you that the most effective tool to help with creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills was playtime? Yes, even the American Academy of Pediatrics has now issued the advice for pediatricians to give a prescription for play to kids at their appointments.

Play is free so anyone can do it. It's especially important for children living in poverty as play can help diffuse some of the effects of toxic stress. Playtime is really serious business, and kids should be doing more of it. In this 21st century world of technology, simple, old-fashioned play helps as a stress buster and builds resilience.

Doesn't matter what kind of play it is -- pretend play, physical play, indoor or outdoor. Kids will learn a lot as they use their imaginations and make things up as they go along. Even before a baby turns two, it's important to show them how to play. For many, it could be with blocks or dolls or bubbles or chalk, doesn't matter.

Toddlers are little sponges and letting them learn how to be creative on their own goes a long way towards brain development. Kids, once they get to be school age, are constantly having their time filled up with academic demands and organized activities. Kids soon become too busy or stressed out to play.

The focus on education has cut into recess time. Some children as young as kindergarten age don't even get recess. This has not gone unnoticed by educators and child advocates either. Studies have shown that learning through play is more likely to encourage long-term academic success, improve test results, and stimulate the joy of learning overall.

Another playtime thief is the screen. It's amazing how many kids I see watching videos of other kids playing rather than playing themselves. Increased digital use has been shown to cause cognitive language and social-emotional delays because kids don't use these skills to really learn them.

Now, it's true that not all digital activities are bad, but kids who are on games too long lose out on the skill of make-believe and they don't get the face-to-face time with kids their age. A tablet or phone is too passive of an activity, and kids really learn better when they are actively engaged and have to discover things for themselves.

Language development is better when there's communication between real people, not a screen. The kids that are most at risk of harm from not playing are the roughly one in five children in the United States who live in poverty. These 14 million children really need to develop the resilience that is nurtured with play.

Unfortunately, outside play areas may be limited or unsafe, and that isn't going unnoticed either. Many cities are now trying to give urban and poverty-level children safer places to play and learn.

Kids from affluent families are affected as well. Some parents schedule every single minute of their child's time, trying to get in as many extracurricular activities as possible to give their child an edge, and they're robbing them of the opportunity to find things out on their own, to discover and be curious about the world.

So next time you take your child to their doctor for a check-up, don't be surprised if your child is asked, "So what do you like to do for fun?"

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