The Importance of Active Play | by Jennifer L.W. Fink

Active Play

Posted on Tue, Nov 13, 2012

When was the last time your child went out to play? In today’s go-go culture, time to play outside is quickly becoming a scarce resource. According to a recent Pediatrics article, the trend toward indoor, sedentary activity begins at a young age. Despite the fact that the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that preschoolers participate in at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity per day, and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity, the Pediatrics survey found that preschoolers in childcare spend just two to three percent of their time in active play. Seventy to 80 percent of their time is spent doing sedentary activities.

Obstacles – and Opportunities — to Play

The Pediatrics researchers surveyed childcare providers and teachers to find out why so little time is spent on active play. They identified three barriers to play: injury concerns, an emphasis on academics and financial concerns.

But emphasizing academics and safety over play may be misguided, says Michael Frand, MD, a pediatrician at Focus On Kids in Littleton. “Preschoolers are developing gross motor skills and social skills, and play is going to help those children in both of those areas,” Dr. Frand says. “Additionally, a few studies have linked play and activity and sport with improved academic performance.”

Concerns about injury have led many schools, parents and childcare centers to restrict certain forms of active play, such as football, and to either get rid of or replace older playground equipment with new, child-safe equipment. The problem, Pediatrics researchers noted, is that kids quickly become bored with “safe” activities.

Dr. Frand says it’s OK – and even healthy – to allow children to test their physical limits. “Let your children push themselves,” he says. “Let them try the monkey bars. They may fall at first, but they’ll figure it out.”

Parents should also make play a priority. “It’s important for kids to learn at a young age that physical activity should be part of their day,” Dr. Frand says. Encourage your children to spend unstructured time outside, and advocate for playtime at school and in your community.


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