Want to Improve Child Well-being? Play Time's a Good Start

Feb 09, 2012

By Stephanie Schmit

While play time for young kids can involve lots of giggles and rolling around - it's fairly serious business, something early childhood specialists know well. It's a point that was again affirmed in a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  Still, it can be hard for some children to have adequate time and places to play, especially for children growing up in poverty. Among the other burdens they face, poor children have fewer opportunities for out-of-school play time and less access to play in school. This can have serious effects on both children's development and bonds between parents and children.

With many schools focusing more on academic achievement, particularly under-resourced and low-performing schools, recess time is being cut back or eliminated all together. At the same time, poor children often lack access to out-of-school opportunities for play because of a lack of parks and playgrounds and other safe play environments in low-income communities. Stressful family circumstances can also reduce play time for poor children. When a parent works two jobs just to be able to pay the bills, the energy and resources may just not be there to encourage play time.

Given what we know about the importance of play time for young children, this is especially unfortunate. AAP's recent clinical report affirms the importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining a strong parent-child bond for all children. Play helps contribute to healthy brain development and is essential to children's social, emotional and cognitive well-being. Play is also one of the best ways for children to participate in physical activity, which helps keep kids healthy and can fight childhood obesity. The First Lady's Let's Move Campaign to end childhood obesity has developed a toolkit for use in child care centers and family child care homes that helps providers ensure that children have the opportunity for play wherever they may be. Promoting play also means limiting screen time and television viewing and engaging children in developmentally appropriate practices that can build young children's competencies.

Policy has a role to play in ensuring that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are given the best opportunities to grow and learn. That includes developing and promoting policies that create safe places to play, outlining requirements for outdoor play time while in child care, and developing appropriate early learning standards across domains. It's also critically important that low-income families are connected to support services and resources that can help build economic and overall well-being.  After all, providing opportunities for children to play, especially poor and vulnerable children, is a step toward helping them grow up to be healthy, happy, and productive adults.

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