With the rise of electronic media, games and the internet, it’s no surprise the children are less active than ever. Children and teens spend about 7 hours per day watching television, playing electronic games and using the internet. Outside play has dropped more than 50%, it’s a cause of concern for many doctors. In fact, the University of California at Irvine has recently begun developing a childhood exercise program for doctors to prescribe to children.
Why aren’t children spending more time playing?
It’s not just the rise of the internet and electronics that have caused the drop in playtime. Parents might feel pressure to help children prepare for school and the future by working on specific skills that can be taught with educational games.
With more parents working and families spread apart, there isn’t as much time for supervised or interactive play, children are often entertained with television and electronic media. And these days, parents are very aware that letting children play outside, unsupervised, is not always safe.
Why is playtime so important?
Playing dress-up, serving pretend tea, and avoiding the pretend bear are all examples of imagination. Children use playtime to explore their imagination. By using imaginative play, children can build their decision-making skills, resolve disagreements, learn to negotiate and stand up for themselves. As they play, children can learn to overcome fears by completing challenging activities like getting to the top of a climber and watching other children succeed. They increase social skills so important in all parts of life.
Physical activity helps children burn off energy but more than that, it helps them learn to use their strength and develop their motor skills. Learning how to get the swing to go higher by pumping their legs and how to make the merry-go-round go faster while being able to jump on, are both strength and coordination skills.
Beyond strength, playtime provides the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills. Looking at the climbing piece on the playground and learning where to step next to get to the top or figuring out how to build a sandcastle involve more than just motor skills.
Having active playtime also helps children become ready to learn. They are more able to sit and focus when they have had plenty of time to expend energy and get fresh air. The sunshine also helps build vitamin D, which leads to stronger bones.
Overall, playing outside helps children become physically healthier. The lack of play has been shown to increase anxiety and stress in children.
Helping children become more active.
The first thing you can do to help your child become more active is to model active behavior. Start going for a walk and take your children with you. Buy a ball and ask your child to play a simple game of toss or bounce.
Limiting screentime will give your child space in their schedule to play actively.
Sometimes it’s hard to find the time between working, meal times and other commitments. Make a plan for how you’ll incorporate playtime. Even spending thirty minutes outside, after work while it’s still light, can make a big difference.
Ask your child what activities they might be interested in trying. Things like soccer, softball, or swimming are often inexpensive sporting options. The local YMCA offers discounts based on income to help offset the expenses for using the facilities.
Get to know your neighbors and ask them to help create a safe space for the neighborhood children to play whether that’s in backyards or out front under supervision. By looking out for each other’s children you can feel more comfortable letting your child play outside.
While it may not be easy at first, helping your children become more active with outdoor time and indoor playtime has many benefits. From better sensory and social skills to increased attention spans and immunity you will begin to see the positive results of playtime very quickly. And when you join in, you’ll feel better too!