Yet another new study shows that parents, not external sources are likely behind a growing lack of childhood free play. The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that many preschool children are sitting sedentary most of the day, in part due to unrealistic demands on the part of parents. The researchers on this study looked at 34 various child care centers serving 3, 4 and 5 year-old kids, including inner-city, suburban, Head Start, and Montessori and found that children in these centers aren’t meeting recommended levels of physical activity for their age group. Researchers discovered three common barriers to children’s physical activity, including injury concerns from parents, small budgets that don’t allow for playgrounds and pushing from parents and state to focus on “academics” vs. play. We’ve seen before how playgrounds can become too safe, and yes boring, due to dumbed down designs, and the researchers agree, saying in their report that boring playgrounds don’t entice preschoolers to play or get enough exercise. In this case, newer stricter safety playground licensing codes and low school budgets are to blame. Changing playgrounds for the better will take major nation-wide work. However, the other issues such as fear of safety and pushing for extensive academics are issues that parents are responsible for and should take control of.
Why Kids Need Free Play
All kids need play, but for kids in the 3, 4 and 5 age-group play is especially vital. Large bodies of research conclude that when young children play they’re able to develop important cognitive and social skills that set the stage for kids who will be able to learn more complex concepts as they age. Free play has been linked to memory growth, decreased ADHD symptoms, decreased stress, problem solving, self-regulation, language skills, increased literacy skills, math proficiency and much more. In fact, if you’re scoffing at the developmental aspects of play consider this – one study found that most convicted killers have a major issue in common – they report a lack of playtime as kids. Yikes, time to break out the blocks. Lastly research on nature play shows that when you allow kids to romp in nature, they’ll grow up to be more eco-minded. Research shows that the most essential play for kids is imaginative, unstructured, rambunctious “free play,” not teacher or parent structured games and activities.
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