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Experts stress importance of playtime for children

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (WBRE) - Back-to-school time means getting back on schedule. That means setting aside time to meet homework and family obligation demands. But one thing experts say many families aren't doing enough of is allowing for playtime.

We've heard a lot about children spending too much time on their phones or playing video games. But according to a recent report -- kids aren't spending nearly enough time at play.

Young children playing with toys is a scene that an American Academy of Pediatrics report says is happening in far too few families. Blame it on children being just so scheduled. "Well, it's great that they're doing activities. They're not also getting a chance to just be a kid," said Geisinger Pediatrician Karen Ephlin.

From 1981 to 1997, the AAP study shows playtime for American children decreased by 25 percent. Dr. Ephlin said, "There's so much homework. There's so much activities, such pressure to be involved in things they're not always able to fit it all in."

That focus on achievement can backfire in multiple ways. It can cost kids a chance to learn role playing, reasoning and self-regulation techniques. A jam packed schedule can also take an emotional toll with a lasting impact according to Dr. Ephlin. "I think they can get very stressed by that. They might feel that that's how life always has to be," Ephlin said. 

Marcie Toot of Jenkins Township realizes the toll overscheduling can have on a child. "These days it almost seems that children have schedules that mirror their parents."

With one child still in diapers, the mother of three from Jenkins Township makes sure her two older children strike a balance. 16-year-old Marcus bowls while 10-year-old Stacey plays soccer.

Marcus said juggling only one extracurricular with the rest of his life means, "My schedule is not packed when I do that but any more and it would get filled up."

By participating in fall soccer his sister Stacey added, "I have free time to play with my friends who are just down the block and even just be alone in my room with my cat."

A prescription for more playtime is something we can all learn from according to Dr. Ephlin. "I think everybody should be able to take breaks and just do their thing. Have fun. Play."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents make sure their kids have unstructured playtime. Even if it's a puzzle kids are doing, you shouldn't do any more than suggest to your child a piece that might fit. Encourage their resourcefulness to figure out the rest.


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