Not enough play

I have recently been asked to comment on the effects of when children have too many extra-mural activities and sports and they don’t have enough time to play. When is too much, just too much?

As a therapist, I often struggle trying to find a timeslot, in the afternoons, to see children. How important is unstructured play and what are the consequences if there is not enough play time?

Unstructured play is imperative in young children. They learn so many valuable skills and tools that cannot be taught. A child is only a child once, and it is during those early years that they build on their foundation and personality – the elements experienced during play contribute to a healthy, happy and well-rounded human being.

The reality is that school hours have become longer to fit in all the outcomes and assessments required by the Education Department. Some children struggle academically, and require extra Maths or Reading. Further, many schools require that children do a set number of sports and extra-mural activities a term. Over-and-above this, children will also have a special hobby; like horse-riding or judo; that they love and cannot see their lives functioning without, which leaves little or no time for free time. So for some children free time or play dates are no longer an option.

This leads the question of how much free time and unstructured play should a child under the age of 13 years have?  At minimum, I would say at least one afternoon a week where there are no compulsory structured activities. I also strongly believe that weekends should be family time and structured activities should not be planned on these days.

Some children are able to verbalise early on that they are just not coping, and then action can be taken to cut down the amount of activities and the child learns to priorities what is important. Some children are not able to express the anxiety that they are feeling and this can manifest in:

  • Bad dreams (nightmares),
  • difficulty sleeping,
  • changes in appetite,
  • not wanting to go to school,
  • mild depression and
  • emotional outbursts, etc.

These symptoms may result in the child coming to see a specialist, such a play therapist.

It is a universal rule that we MUST listen to our children. They will give us the warning signs that they are just not coping with everything on their plate.

I would like to end with this simple quote by an influential developmental psychologist:

To play it out is the most natural self healing method childhood affords.” – Eric Erickson

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.