Thirty years ago, I was just a preschooler. I played outside with my brother and my dog. I played in the mud and got dirty. We pretended and explored. With the exception of an occasional episode of Sesame Street, we watched very little television, and television was our only form of “screen time.”
Fast-forward 30 years, and our culture has shifted quite drastically. Parents are more likely to become “helicopters” as children explore less and are monitored more. Screens have become more common than outside play.
Early childhood today often comes with an academic checklist. Today’s parents are likely to feel pressure to ensure their children have learned their colors, shapes, numbers, alphabet, and the list goes on. Children are being enrolled in enrichment courses and extracurricular lessons in order to ensure their children are academically on target or even advanced.
With the rise of screen time and academic pressures, there is less margin in the day for little ones to play, explore, and engage their senses through physical play time. Unstructured play is vital to the physical and cognitive development of preschoolers. The decline in unstructured play has resulted in a rise in sensory, cognitive, and motor issues in the classroom.
As children experience less opportunities for free play, they also lose the chance to make choices on their own as they play. They lose social experiences such as sharing and cooperating. As parents structure more of their children’s time, children also lose the chance to problem solve. While students will be more academically prepared for kindergarten, they may actually be less physically and socially prepared. Children may be more likely to experience anxiety and have a more difficult time adjusting to the social environment in the classroom.
Here’s to more backyard play dates, saying yes to getting dirty, and encouraging imaginative play.
Wendy is a mother of four who lives in central Illinois where she blogs at TheMessyMom.net.