Guest Blogger: Deanna Richmond, MD, Pediatrician, UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center South County Pediatrics
In a policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that unstructured play best nurtures brain development in infants and toddlers. The AAP discourages TV and even educational videos for this age group.
Even though parents can find a number of “educational” TV and video programs aimed at infants and toddlers, the AAP says no evidence backs up the claim that such programs help children learn better. Moreover, it says, youngsters who have extensive exposure to TV and videos are at risk for language development delays when they start school.
Far better than TV or other media, free play helps young children think creatively, solve problems, and develop reasoning and motor skills. Kids who are encouraged to play learn how to entertain themselves.
Keep Play Unstructured
Unstructured play is so important for brain development in the preschool years. It bolsters imagination, teaches decision-making skills, logic, relieves stress and improves self-confidence. Due to the technology-dependent nature of the world we live in, the AAP revised its guidelines in 2016.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- If you choose to let your child watch TV or videos, you should limit screen time to two hours per day for children older than 2 years old. Have a strategy for managing use.
- Try to stay off your phone when playing with your kids or at dinner time, etc.
- When you don’t have time to actively play with your child, you should encourage independent play or play with another adult nearby. For instance, you can give your child nesting cups to play with on the floor near you while you fix dinner.
- You should keep a TV out of your child’s bedroom. TV before bedtime can cause poor sleep habits and irregular sleep schedules, which can lead to mood, behavior and learning problems.
- Keep an eye on your own media use. If you have the TV tuned to a program you want to watch while your child is in the room, both of you will be distracted from meaningful interaction.
Ideas for Free Play
- Stack blocks or mix sand and water.
- Make a fort out of pillows and blankets.
- Read or act out stories.
- Play with mixing spoons, cardboard boxes, pots and pans.
- Play with your child. Help build the fort, have a tea party, play house.
- Go outdoors. Nature encourages physical play. Go to a playground, show your child bugs and flowers, or go for a walk in the woods or around the block.
Join the conversation. Tell us what free play activities you like to do with your kids?