Sunday, December 21, 2014

Play is still children at work

Are kids forgetting how to play - or being robbed of opportunities to move their bodies, explore their world and learn how to get along with others? Plenty of research says yes.

Play is still children at work

(AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
(AP Photo/Denis Farrell) (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

Are kids forgetting how to play – or being robbed of opportunities to move their bodies, explore their world and learn how to get along with others? Plenty of research says yes. One Yale University study found more aggressive behavior and more expulsions in preschools with less play time. There’s some evidence that creativity and curiosity are taking a hit, too.

A recent Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center study even found that ‘safety first’ playgrounds – the ho-hum type with slow slides, short climbing sections and enclosed platforms that don’t lead anywhere interesting – are so boring that kids don’t want to play on them for very long.  “Children learn on the playground,” the lead researcher told HealthDay. “They learn about nature, weather and the seasons, motion, concepts of distance and speed, and cause and effect. They learn how to negotiate and talk with their peers. And they learn fundamental gross motor skills, like how to throw and catch a ball, and how to skip."

What ever happened to those high metal sliding boards, metal-pipe monkey bars, wooden see-saws and crazy merry-go-rounds of the past? Pediatrician Gary Emmett, M.D., director of hospital pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and a contributor to the Healthy Kids blog has these thoughts:

“Play is the work of a child,” said Maria Montessori the creator of the pre-school education method that bears her name.  Unfortunately, we adults all too often forget this fact when it has to do with our own children — and this produces some unforeseen outcomes.

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The combination of rushing children to learn academics (readin’, ’ritin’, ‘rithmatic) in pre-school instead of social skills, combined with exaggerated safety concerns results in 2- to 4- year-olds who never exercise and never do independent play. An institution developed to get children to learn life skills becomes a place just to start school too early.  Many children, especially boys, who are just not ready for sitting still and learning academics become “failures” even before kindergarten.

We are also obsessed with making everything “100 percent safe.”  A recent article in the New York Times, “Is It Safe to Play Yet,” (may require free registration) says it is hard to tell when safety checks in a household become obsession.  “Safe” playgrounds are, unfortunately, often boring playgrounds. When I was small, I was the “safety” on the merry-go-round, which was dangerous and exciting. It was also superb exercise. Today, some elementary schools in Philadelphia do not have outdoor time at all so no one gets hurt. 

I do not have a good answer for safe play areas – we do want everyone to be safe, but we do have to let (make!) our children run as much as they can because that will get improve their short-term and long-term health at the expense of a few bumps and bruises. Let's just not lose sight of the fact that preschool is PREschool. Let our children interact, play and learn from each other how to work in society.

What do you think? Does your child get enough unstructured outdoor play time? Do kids run around in your neighborhood, at local parks or local playgrounds anymore? 

About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Mario Cruz, M.D. Pediatrician, Associate Director of Pediatric Residency Program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Division Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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