Yeah! Finally a voice of reason: According to fellow blogger, Cathy Arnst, a report just released by the American Academy of Pediatrics concludes that “what children really need is unstructured playtime.” Among the benefits: “it helps children become creative, discover their own passions, develop problem-solving skills, relate to others and adjust to school settings,” Cathy writes.
This seems obvious to me. Yet, I often feel as if I’m the only mom in my Manhattan neighborhood who gets it. As a part-time employee, I spend two days a week at home with my three sons. On those days, I make it a priority to schedule no lessons or classes. Sometimes, we just hang out. Other times, we go on excursions to museums or playgrounds or have friends over.
Whatever we do, we do it together--like one big roving playdate. I refuse to hire a babysitter to shepherd one child to French class, while I take another to a violin lesson. That approach may ultimately yield better material for college applications. But when kids are ferried from one activity to the next, how do they ever learn to entertain themselves? And as the Academy’s report points out, they miss out on opportunities to develop interpersonal skills—such as negotiation, conflict-resolution, and consensus-building. These things just can’t be taught in a class.
Don’t get me wrong. My kids take part in some structured activities. As a general rule, I let each pick two per semester. With three kids, that means six activities in total—or more than enough Little League and swimming lessons to keep us busy. Sometimes, I worry my kids aren’t going to be able to compete in a world in which six-year-olds study “music theory,” chess, and Chinese. But I’ve noticed a curious thing: Many of the uber-moms who enroll their kids in non-stop activities complain that their kids become easily bored when left to their own devices. My kids, on the other hand, thrive on unstructured time. Sometimes, they even choose a fantasy game—Star Wars or pirates—over the hour of TV they’re allowed per day. Their ability to amuse themselves for hours on end also helps me get work done. Sure, play is nothing you can write about on a college essay. But I don’t need an academic study to tell me that it makes for happier, more engaged, and more socially adaptable children.