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Doctors are actually prescribing playtime to children. Here's why

Ruby and Lincoln Ferguso play with MagStix at Matt's Place in Centerville on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.
Ruby and Lincoln Ferguso play with MagStix at Matt's Place in Centerville on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Worried about your child’s busy schedule? Have them see a doctor.

A new policy report from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests doctors help children establish playtime during their busy weeks.

The report says parents and schools focus too much on academic achievement. But they recommend pediatricians prescribe playtime when they visit with children.

“We’re in a climate where parents are feeling like they need to schedule every minute of structured time, and 30 percent of kindergartens offer no recess,” said Dr. Michael Yogman, chairman of the AAP committee on psychosocial aspects of child family health and the lead author of the statement, according to The New York Times.

The report identified four different types of play:

  • Object play, which includes kids using objects like a toy.
  • Physical play, which includes pillow fights and free play at recess.
  • Outdoor play, like throwing balls or playing catch, is also recommended.
  • Social or pretend play happens with toys, stuffed animals and features children taking on fake roles.

“At a time when early childhood programs are pressured to add more didactic components and less playful learning, pediatricians can play an important role in emphasizing the role of a balanced curriculum that includes the importance of playful learning for the promotion of healthy child development,” the authors wrote in the report.

The report indicates several ways playtime can help children. Research shows that playtime helps children develop language and executive functioning skills. Playtime can also help children “learn to negotiate with others and manage stress, and figure out how to pursue their goals while ignoring distractions, among other things,” according to Quartz.

“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.

The report’s authors said social pressure for parents leads to their focus on academics.

“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.”

Yogman told The New York Times he’s happy the academy made these recommendations to pediatricians since they will likely help parents make better choices.

“I think there’s a real pediatric role in pointing out the real profound importance of play on many levels,” Yogman said. “Parents are looking to us for what do I do with my child, how many activities do I get them in. I’m really thrilled the academy was willing to endorse the idea of a prescription for play.”