Less Playtime Means More Trouble

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"Without free, big outdoor movement play, children "…are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions."

Angela Hanscom, "The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues", Washington Post

I just read a very interesting (and troubling) article in the Washington Post by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and author. Entitled "The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues", the article posits that children are having difficulty emotionally coping and handling basic socialization activities like sharing and taking turns.

To describe what is going on she quotes a preschool teacher who has been in the classroom for forty years. Here is how she describes the behavior of the children:

"They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.

What has changed? It appears that it is emphasis on academic performance at the cost of play that is causing children to be academically sharper at a younger age but to be lacking in what can only be learned on the playground: Having to get a long with others. In addition, the lack of playtime leads to heightened aggression and an inability to sit still. 

Adults are trying to help children cope by teaching them meditation, breathing exercises and more. As she points out, all of this would be unnecessary if children simply got the amount of playtime that is essential in children before the age of seven. 

As Ms. Hascom puts it, without free, big outdoor movement play, children "…are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions." 

In order to learn more, I checked in with Wendy Levey, Founder and Director of ECNS (Epiphany Community Nursery School) in New York City.


She told me that she was seeing the same thing but had come up with a solution: Providing active playtime before school starts. Parents can drop children off before class time begins for  playtime in the school's gym. She tells me that children are far calmer and more ready to work when school starts.

As I have noted before, we in the toy industry need to advocate for play in our homes and communities. If we don't those children may grow up to be adults who bump into each other on the sidewalks and we all know where that ends up.

3 thoughts

  1. Kids need free, unstructured play to develop on so many levels. All kids should get to play as much as they need throughout their childhood. And, it’s ok for them to say they’re bored occasionally – the boredom can be a great motivator for them to find creative ways to amuse themselves.

  2. I am well familiar with sensory issues and the wonders occupational therapy can do for All children, and even adults. This is an example of an article that gives just enough information to do harm. If only it had gone a little further in explaining brain healthy activities. While I totally agree that children need be actively playing a lot more and sitting in front of video screens a lot less, it’s a lot more complicated than that. There is something else children are missing. Parents. Dropped even small babies off at a loud, busy daycare in their PJ’s and picking them up at bedtime is far too common and it’s damaging in a myriad of ways.
    And let’s discuss play. 100% of most children’s play is done in large groups. They are given no opportunity to play by themselves, which means they are missing out on inventive play, in thinking things through,solving problems. They are put in a situation where expressing themselves comes with a much higher risk, because they are judged. They are expected to be socially ON at all times. An introspective, thinking child has no place in this scenario. There is little to no one on one play either. They are usually told what to play when to play ti and how to play it. Children are expected to raise each other. They suffer all the damage overcrowding causes. Including increased anger and violence.
    You’d have to be blind not to see this.
    I’m the parent of young adults. I stayed home with my kids and we struggled on one paycheck, but the rewards were huge. No regrets here. During that time I I thought field trip classes at all our local schools, and had a good view of how kids did from class to class and school to school. I saw that between preschool and first grade, kids totally shut down. They don’t respond during class discussions. Can’t answer questions preschoolers can. They are burning out and regressing.
    Also, these children can not identify common fruits and vegetables. They don’t recognize flour or dough. What a lost opportunity! All the math my daughter learned, she learned in the kitchen, or while grocery shopping. Much of our bonding happened in the kitchen, and still does. Considering I have a medically restricted diet and have never enjoyed cooking alone or with anyone else, this is saying a lot.
    It’s time the way we raise children became a serious conversation. Right now, we talk around it. This article does.

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