- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) — Here’s some soothing medicine for stressed-out parents and overscheduled kids: The American Academy of Pediatrics says what children really need for healthy development is more good, old-fashioned playtime.

Many parents load their children’s schedules with get-smart videos, enrichment activities and lots of classes in a drive to help them excel. The efforts often begin as early as infancy.

Spontaneous, free play — whether it’s chasing butterflies, playing with “true toys” like blocks and dolls, or just romping on the floor with Mom and Dad — often is sacrificed in the shuffle, a new academy report says.

Jennifer Gervasio has a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter involved in preschool three mornings weekly, plus T-ball and ballet for each one day a week. That’s a light schedule compared to her children’s friends, and Mrs. Gervasio said her son in particular has trouble finding buddies who are free to come over and just play.

“There’s just such a huge variety of things you can do for your kids if you have the resources, you almost feel why not,” said Mrs. Gervasio, of Wilmette, Ill. “There is a part of me that would worry if I don’t sign my son up for some of these things, will he not be on par with the other kids?”

For now, she says, she resists the pressure, instead allowing her children plenty of time for looking for bugs, romping at the beach and other play activities they love to do.

“I truly believe that they’re better off when they can just do their own thing,” Mrs. Gervasio said.

Numerous studies have shown that unstructured play has many benefits. It can help children become creative, discover their own passions, develop problem-solving skills, relate to others and adjust to school settings, the academy report says.

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