Are your kids overscheduled? Make playtime a priority

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Are your kids overscheduled? Make playtime a priority

A Mayo Clinic pediatrics specialist explains how playtime affects a child's development.

Photo of Daniel Broughton, M.D.
Daniel Broughton, M.D.

Between organized sports, swimming lessons, music lessons and all the other activities that fill your child's schedule, playtime may be all but forgotten. But unstructured playtime might be just as important for your child's development as academics and sports, according to a 2006 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Here, Daniel Broughton, M.D., a pediatrics specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and co-author of the study, explains how playtime fosters a child's development.

What are kids missing if they don't have enough playtime?

If too many activities are set up and orchestrated by adults, children lose opportunities to develop their creativity and interact with other children — activities that promote a lifetime of healthy development.

Consider the classic sandlot football game. A disagreement over a penalty or a play may break up the game. But at some point, the kids realize that it's better to work through the disagreement than lose the opportunity to play. The result is a life lesson in negotiation, cooperation and compromise.

Does it make sense to schedule playtime?

It's important to make playtime a regular part of your child's day, both for the learning opportunities and the break from more intense activities. Sometimes it helps to schedule that unstructured time. But don't be too rigid about it. Focus on giving your child the chance to dream up an activity or invite a friend to play — not on enforcing free play for specific amounts of time every day.

Can passive activities, such as watching TV or playing video games, be a healthy part of a child's playtime?

It's important to limit your child's screen time. But as long as you're comfortable with what your child is watching or playing, some degree of unstructured time can certainly include TV or video games. You can even use TV as a tool or a springboard for discussions about choices, consequences and responsibility.

Last Updated: 12/01/2006
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