According to a new report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and reported in its journal, “free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact – essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.” The report, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” reminds us “that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare children for success come not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modeling and guidance.”
Here are some excerpts, but it’s worth reading the entire report:
Currently, many schoolchildren are given less free time and fewer physical outlets at school as many school districts responded to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by reducing time committed to recess, the creative arts, and even physical education in an effort to focus on reading and mathematics. This change may have implications on childrenâ€™s ability to store new information, as childrenâ€™s cognitive capacity is enhanced by a clear-cut and significant change in activity. A change in academic instruction or class topic does not offer this clear-cut change in cognitive effort and certainly does not offer a physical release. Even a formal structured physical education class may not offer the same benefit as free-play recess. Reduced time for physical activity may be contributing to the discordant academic abilities between boys and girls, as schools that promote sedentary styles of learning become a more difficult environment for boys to navigate successfully.
In response to the increasingly rigorous college admissions process, many secondary schools are judged by the rates in which their students are accepted by the most prestigious centers of higher learning. Partly in response to this, many students have been encouraged to carry increasingly rigorous academic schedules, including multiple advanced placement courses. In addition, many students are taking prep courses for standardized entrance examinations. These students are left with less free time because of the home preparatory time needed for their classes.
There is a national trend to focus on the academic fundamentals of reading and arithmetic. This trend, spearheaded by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, is a reaction to the unacceptable educational performance of Americaâ€™s children in some educational settings. One of the practical effects of the trend is decreased time left during the school day for other academic subjects, as well as recess, creative arts, and physical education. This trend may have implications for the social and emotional development of children and adolescents. In addition, many after-school child care programs prioritize an extension of academics and homework completion over organized play, free play, and physical activity.