Let Kids Play! Too Much Structure Isn't a Good Thing

Photo by AshBayGrammy
Move over toddler math camp; forget the flash cards and French classes for the diaper-clad set. Make way for old-fashioned play.

A recent study shows that more unrestricted play in childhood may make for healthier adults.

Researchers found that children who participate in more creative play practice healthier habits as adults, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising. Children who played less and had other restrictions on their playtime were more likely to be overweight and lead less healthy lifestyles.


"Having the freedom and opportunity to play is important for all aspects of child development and is a right that's often overlooked," said Tony Cassidy, author of the study. "It's something that most children want to do and do naturally, but its importance isn't always recognized by adults, particularly policymakers."

It's an important message because as parents, it's easy to get caught up in trying to give your child every advantage, trying to make her the best she can be.

I remember touring some very academic preschools for my son, seeing things like math centers and geography classes for 3-year-olds. I have to admit I was impressed at first and slightly pulled in that direction. If other 3-year-olds were learning three languages, then wouldn't my son be left behind if he didn't? How great would it be if he could do multiplication before kindergarten?  He really liked to learn, so ...

Then I cleared my head and realized I didn't want him to have homework before he was out of diapers, that I wanted him to explore and play and laugh and learn how to make friends. So I chose schools that were very play-focused early on, and they served him well. He learned to love school, and he still loves it.

I was certainly not immune from wanting to make sure my child measured up or had a leg up. I had moments of doubt thinking he could be learning more, worrying about him not being stimulated enough, especially when I heard what other children were doing in other preschools. He took (and loved!) a play-based Spanish class one year, and I even bought flashcards on an occasion or two.

But for most of his toddlerhood, he just played.

This study is a good affirmation of what my gut told me years ago and will make it that much easier to follow it with my toddler daughter as well.

Let's hear it for the toys!

How much playing do you think is best for toddlers?


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