All work and no play is not what the doctor ordered.
Published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a new clinical report titled “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children” emphasizes the importance of play in children’s lives — so much so that the report authors are advising a literal prescription for it.
“We’re recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important,” said pediatrician Michael Yogman, MD, FAAP, who was one of five lead authors on the report. “Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills, including social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, all needed by the next generation in an economically competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation.”
He added, “The benefits of play cannot really be overstated in terms of mitigating stress, improving academic skills and helping to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience.”
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The report defines different types of play — object, physical, outdoor and pretend — and explains play development, as well as its effects on the brain and how lower stress levels and play are closely connected. It also advises pediatricians to literally prescribe play “at every well-child visit in the first 2 years of life.”
Another author of the report, pediatrician Jeffrey Hutchinson, MD, FAAP, opines that electronic devices can actually stand majorly in the way of reaping some of the deeper benefits of play.
“Media use such as television, video games, smartphone and tablet apps are increasingly distracting children from play,” he said. “It’s concerning when immersion in electronic media takes away time for real play, either outdoors or indoors.”
“Although active engagement with age-appropriate media can be beneficial for older children, especially if supported by co-watching or co-play with peers or parents, real-time social interactions and play are superior to digital media for learning,” Hutchinson added.
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The AAP report outlines how parents and educators can make play a priority in children’s lives extremely early on, by engaging in games like peekaboo, observing how their children respond to specific play stimulation and not tying the purpose of play to something like test scores — rather, letting kids take the reins.
“The next time your child wants to play with you, say yes. It’s one of the best parts of being a parent, and one of the best things you can do for your child,” said Yogman. “Play helps children learn language, math, and social skills, and lowers stress.”
He continued, “Play is important both for children and their parents since sharing joyful moments together during play can only enhance their relationship.”