In Support of Free Play

Two groups I’ve been affiliated with over the years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have struck up an unusual partnership.

The AAP announced yesterday details of a report titled, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” As the press release states (see below), the report is written “in defense of play and in response to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time.” The forces referred to include educational policies (including college admissions processes) which have increased stress among our nation’s families. And this is where MIT comes in – Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones, an outspoken advocate of college admissions process overhaul, has co-authored an AAP-published book with Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg titled, “Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond.” Dean Jones has been in the news quite a bit lately pushing her plan to “lower the flame” of the boiling-over admissions process. It seems that Jones really got the picture when her daughter was going through the crazed process last year, and now she’s using her personal and professional experience to try and influence policy. I think this partnership makes lots of sense, and I’m proud of both groups for tackling the thorny issue.

I’ve written before about the importance of free, unstructured play for children’s development, and I’m thrilled to see this effort supported by two institutions who have the political power (and now it seems, the will) to influence positive change.

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NEW AAP REPORT STRESSES PLAY FOR HEALTHY DEVELOPMENT

Hurried lifestyle and heavy academic, extracurricular load taking toll; balance is needed

Below is a news release on a news briefing at the 2006 National Conference and Exhibition (NCE) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, nationally recognized pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), will present the new AAP clinical report, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” on Monday, October 9, at 10:00 a.m. (EST) at the AAP National Conference and Exhibition. The report is embargoed until Monday, October 9, at 12:01 am (EST), and will be posted to the AAP Web site on October 9 at http://www.aap.org

Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will join Dr. Ginsburg in this announcement.

For Release: Monday, October 9, 2006

12:01 am (EST)

ATLANTA – A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact – essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.

The report, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” is written in defense of play and in response to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time. These forces include changes in family structure, the increasingly competitive college admissions process, and federal education policies that have led to reduced recess and physical education in many schools.

Whereas play protects children’s emotional development, a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for many children, the AAP report states.

The report reaffirms that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare children for success come not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modeling and guidance.

Still, many parents are afraid to slow their pace for fear their children will fall behind. They feel like they are running on a treadmill, but worry they will not be acting as proper parents if they do not participate in a hurried lifestyle.

The report suggests that reduced time for physical activity may be contributing to the academic differences between boys and girls, as schools with sedentary learning styles become more difficult settings for some boys to navigate successfully.

Among the specific guidelines, the report suggests:

* Emphasizing the benefits of “true toys”, such as blocks and dolls, in which children use their imagination fully over passive toys that require limited imagination;

* Supporting an appropriately challenging academic schedule for each child with a balance of extracurricular activities. This should be based on each child’s unique needs and not on competitive community standards or need to gain college admissions;

* Helping parents evaluate claims by marketers and advertisers about products or interventions designed to produce “super-children;”

* Encouraging parents to understand that each young person does not need to excel in multiple areas to be considered successful or prepared to compete in the real world;

* Suggesting families choose childcare and early education programs that meet children’s social and emotional developmental needs as well as academic preparedness.

The report recognizes that academic enrichment opportunities are vital for some children’s ability to succeed academically, and that participation in organized activities promotes healthy youth development.

“The challenge for society, schools, and parents is to strike the balance that allows all children to reach their potential, without pushing them beyond their personal comfort limits, and while allowing them personal free time,” the report states.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The AAP recently published two books that provide parents, children, and adolescents with support and guidance on addressing the issues raised in this report.. They include “A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings,” by Dr. Ginsburg with Martha Jablow. In addition, Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions at MIT co-authored “Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond” with Dr. Ginsburg. This book redefines success and addresses why the college admissions process has become extremely stressful and how that stress is having negative consequences on the emotional and physical health of young adults.

EDITOR’S NOTE: These books are available by calling the toll-free AAP order line at 888-227-1770, or by visiting the AAP online book store at www.aap.org/bookstore. The books also are in stores nationwide. For book excerpts, brochures and additional public education information on raising resilient children and teens, please visit the AAP Web site at www.aap.org/stress.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.

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