Without ample opportunity for forms of play that foster innovation and creative thinking, she argues, America’s children will be at a disadvantage in the global economy.
“Play equals learning,” she said. “For too long we have divorced the two.”
Some of the factors behind diminished play time have been evolving for decades, others are more recent. Added together, they have resulted in eight to 12 fewer hours of free play time per week for the average American child since the 1980s, experts say.
Among the key factors, according to Thompson:
- Parents’ reluctance to let their kids play outside on their own, for fear of abduction or injury, and the companion trend of scheduling lessons, supervised sports and other structured activities that consume a large chunk of a child’s non-school hours.
- More hours per week spent by kids watching TV, playing video games, using the Internet, communicating on cell phones.
- Shortening or eliminating recess at many schools — a trend so pronounced that the National PTA has launched a “Rescuing Recess” campaign.
- More emphasis on formal learning in preschool, more homework for elementary school students and more pressure from parents on young children to quickly acquire academic skills.