Drawing a link between children’s mental-health problems and a lack of free playtime, prominent educators, psychologists, and other experts interested in keeping playtime a central part of childhood have run a letter in a London newspaper stating their concerns.
Signed by such leading U.S. child-development figures as David Elkind, the author of The Hurried Child, and Lawrence Schweinhart, the president of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mich., the Sept. 10 letter in The Daily Telegraph cited research in the United States and the United Kingdom showing that children are unhappy and experiencing “diagnosable mental-health problems.”
They attribute negative trends to the erosion of play, resulting from such factors as traffic in residential areas, too much “screen-based entertainment,” commercialized toys, and parents’ anxiety about children’s exposure to strangers.
“Play—particularly outdoor, unstructured, loosely supervised play—appears to be vital to children’s all-round health and well-being,” says the letter, published as an opinion article by the College Park, Md.-based Alliance for Childhood, which has affiliates in Europe and South America and promotes children’s healthy development.
The group also warned that “formal learning” in preschool is replacing the time children have to play with friends, develop creativity, and become self-reliant.
Edward Miller, a senior researcher with the Alliance for Childhood, in the United States, said that, by itself, the letter is unlikely to put a stop to the trend toward less free time for children. But he added that a variety of other initiatives, including a PBS documentary scheduled for October, are drawing attention to the issue.
“I think people will go back and pull up some of these early warnings,” he said.
In November, the alliance aims start a dialogue on the issue when it sponsors a session on “how play works” at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, to be held in Chicago.
A version of this article appeared in the September 26, 2007 edition of Education Week