Why kids play less now than 40 years ago (and why you should care)


You’ve heard the stories from children of the 50s and 60s. Or maybe told them yourself. “In my day, we had to walk five miles to school, uphill both ways!”

We tend to think kids growing up today have it easier than previous generations in most ways. Not only do they have all the conveniences of the 21st century; look at the plethora of entertainment options at their fingertips. Just think about road trips today (since we’ve been on the subject  recently). Remember what they were like before the Age of Angry Birds? Things have gotten easier, right?

While the entertainment industry is booming, though, another trend is occurring: the decline of play. In fact, kids on average play 9 hours less per week than they did 40 years ago. It’s a pretty shocking stat, but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Play is under attack today, and here are some reasons why:

  • Overbooked schedules: Kids are busier today with more organized activities than ever before. Why? Probably a combination of reasons. One is the pressure to raise a well-rounded child. Another might be parental fear of children falling behind. While many of these activities offer excellent developmental benefits, we have to wonder: at what point do kids become overscheduled? When are we sacrificing too much free playtime? Consider not just the time spent doing the activity, but also time in the car driving to and from all these places. (No wonder we need 18 cup holders, 2 built-in DVD players, and multiple Angry Birds-equipped devices, right?)
  • Decline of recess: More and more schools are cutting recess from their school curriculum or at least reducing the allotted time. Some have theorized that this change is partly a response to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Recess, physical education, and creative arts had to be reduced to make more time for mathematics and reading instruction. Unfortunately, the value of monkey bars is highly underrated today when it comes to learning division and multiplication.A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that breaking up the academic schedule with free time and other physical outlets actually helps to increase children’s cognitive capacity.
Tip: Protecting kids from skinned knees and bruised elbows may not keep them safer long-term. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Failing teaches us our limits.
  • Helicopter parenting: Outdoor playtime is one of the areas of play that has declined the most in recent years. According to an article in the American Journal of Play, fear of child predators is one reason why children spend more time indoors. Though crime against children is rare and has declined since the 90s, our fear hasn’t. Parents today are also more afraid of injuries. Just look at the way play structures themselves have changed. Rest in peace, merry-go-rounds. (“In my day, we didn’t have rubberized mats under our playgrounds! We had mulch! And it got stuck in our shoes and gave us splinters!”) The irony of this fear is that letting children skin their knees and bruise their elbows unimpeded from time to time is exactly the education they need to keep them safe in the future. Failing teaches us our limits.

We know that playtime is vitally important to children’s development, so the decline in free play is concerning. So where is the silver lining? Perhaps it’s the fact that no one is consciously trying to get rid of playtime. Our current culture just hasn’t always recognized its importance and protected it. That’s one reason the Stuffies® team created this blog. And we hope other parents will join us on this mission.

What do you think? Do your kids play less outside? Do they have recess at school? Share your thoughts!

*We’re not telling you to make signs that say “Save the Monkey Bars!” and protest the decline of recess at your next PTA meeting. If you do, however, we would like to see photos.



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