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9/10/18blog post

prescription for play

The American Academy of Pediatrics, a prestigious group of 67,000 pediatricians, issued a major scientific report last month complete with 147 references to promote a revolutionary prescription to “buffer toxic stress, build parental relationships and improve executive functioning” in children.

One of the lead authors, Dr. Michael Yogman, is recommending that “doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important.”

When I first read this press release, I thought it was a joke. Why would a well-respected group of professionals waste their time telling us what every parent already knows? Play is more than frivolous fun.  It is incredibly important for kids’ development. Do we need doctors to write a prescription to tell our kids to run, jump, hang around, and enjoy their friends?

The report provided scientific justification to support the importance of play in children’s lives. Kids learn a lot when they are left to play alone or with friends. They figure out how to solve problems, reduce stress, be creative, deal with frustration, and develop their passion for life.

The disturbing part of this report is the documentation of how our kids’ play time has decreased in recent years.  Approximately 30 percent of kindergarteners no longer have recess, and playtime overall decreased 25 percent from 1981 to 1997 according to the report in Pediatrics. The restriction on play time has become so intense that Florida recently mandated that each elementary student has 20 minutes of recess every day.  Just 16 percent of states require that our kids get recess daily.

The threats to our kids’ play time come from a myriad of sources. The ridiculous focus on standardized testing in schools is one of the main culprits. Testing has replaced learning, and sitting behind a desk has been mistaken for learning about things that matter. Teachers know that their students are better learners when they have a chance to move around, run, stretch, and do silly things with classmates.

Parents share most of the blame for this “Play Deficit Disorder.”  I recently moved into a new neighborhood, and rarely see children playing outside. A few weeks ago, I was shocked to see hundreds of kids waiting (with their parents) for the school bus. What do these kids do when they get home from school?  I suspect most are not allowed to play alone in their neighborhood, but rather are seduced by endless hours of mindless YouTube videos.

Parental focus on structure and control is ruining kids’ play time. Many children are scheduled with an overabundance of adult controlled activities, leaving them little time just to be children.

Next time you visit your doctor, don’t embarrass yourself by asking for a “prescription for play.” Just do what you know is right.