For many parents, back-to-school season incites a mad scramble to organize kids’ activities—from music lessons to math club and after-school tutoring. But a new policy report from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests we’d do better to pencil in big blocks of time devoted to nothing but free play.

“Play is not frivolous,” the report says. Rather, research shows that play helps children develop language and executive functioning skills, learn to negotiate with others and manage stress, and figure out how to pursue their goals while ignoring distractions, among other things. The report warns that parents and schools are focusing on academic achievement at the expense of play, and recommends that pediatricians attempt to turn the tide by prescribing play during well visits for children.

For many parents, back-to-school season incites a mad scramble to organize kids’ activities—from music lessons to math club and after-school tutoring. But a new policy report from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests we’d do better to pencil in big blocks of time devoted to nothing but free play.

“Play is not frivolous,” the report says. Rather, research shows that play helps children develop language and executive functioning skills, learn to negotiate with others and manage stress, and figure out how to pursue their goals while ignoring distractions, among other things. The report warns that parents and schools are focusing on academic achievement at the expense of play, and recommends that pediatricians attempt to turn the tide by prescribing play during well visits for children.

Outdoor play allows kids to integrate a bunch of senses: throwing balls or playing tag lets them learn to use the body and mind in tandem. Perhaps that’s why research shows that countries that offer more recess to young children see greater academic success among the children as they get older. There’s also social or pretend play(which can happen alone or with others), when kids experiment with taking on roles—teaching a classroom full of stuffed animals, or playing house.

The AAP cites a laundry list of evidence underpinning the benefits of play. Randomized trials of physical play in 7- to 9-year-olds showed that play enhanced attentional inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and brain functioning that suggested better executive control. Pretend play helps kids build self-regulation because children have to collaborate on just how the imaginary world they are living in will work, thus “improving their ability to reason about hypothetical events.” Play is also particularly important for kids exposed to toxic levels of stress. “The mutual joy and shared communication and attunement (harmonious serve and return interactions) that parents and children can experience during play regulate the body’s stress response,” the report says.

Getting play back on track

While the report’s authors worry that parents’ laser-focus on achievement has eaten away at play time, they attribute the problem to social pressures rather than poor intentions. “Parental guilt has led to competition over who can schedule more ‘enrichment opportunities’ for their children,” they write. “As a result, there is little time left in the day for children’s free play, for parental reading to children, or for family meal times.”

To change this, the AAP recommends that preschools encourage more playful learning, both to foster stronger caregiver–infant relationships and to promote executive functioning skills. It also suggests that doctors not only encourage parents to protect children’s unstructured playtime, but have parents let their children take the lead—for example, if a child is doing a puzzle, it’s okay to suggest a piece of a puzzle that might fit, but not do the puzzle yourself.

Of course, “scheduling” free play is easier said than done. For a lot of parents, it’s logistically challenging, requiring caregivers or environments that support affordable free play that also keeps kids safe, fed, and close to school or home. That’s a lot harder than booking kids into a coding club. But our pediatricians want us to give it a try.

Read more from our series on Rewiring Childhood. This reporting is part of a series supported by a grant from the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The author’s views are not necessarily those of the Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Vía: https://qz.com/1363294/the-american-academy-of-pediatrics-is-telling-doctors-to-start-prescribing-play/