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Dr. Toy Talks about Overcoming Barriers to Play

Safe and stimulating play promotes wholesome development and inspires a healthy future. Play is good for everyone!
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baby boy playing with toy fire engine
baby boy playing with toy fire engine

Many wonder about the amount of time children are able to play each day and the kind of playthings they use.

We should all share in the commitment of time, energy and resources it takes to select products and provide experiences that will benefit children.

Technology or Play?

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, American children are spending an average of "almost 40 hours a week (equivalent to a full-time job) consuming media outside of school -- including television, computers, radio and electronic games." Most children have TVs, computers and game consoles readily available. They are exposed to all kinds of advertising as they browse the Internet, play games and watch TV programs. The use of electronic devices instead of play, plus organized play such as soccer, Little League, Scouts and, of course, training in the arts such as music and dance lessons, do not constitute "Creative Free Playtime," which has been shown toenhance the development of children. Balance is most beneficial.

Active Play
Many recreation centers, where they are available, do not have sufficiently trained personnel to offer a wide variety of play activity choices.

Many pediatricians are concerned with the sedentary time children are spending with electronics. Many pediatricians and childhood specialist feel too much media consumption is a detrimental activity -- in part due to passivity, over-emphasis on inappropriate material and not engaging in a variety of activities. Limited physical exercise can also lead to various health problems, while the bombardment of advertising messages leads to nagging, dissatisfaction and poor eating habits. Too much electronic use limits time for creativity, engaging with playthings, exploration, dreaming and time for thinking.

We should all be greatly concerned about these phenomena. We should see this intrusion in the lives of children as a great barrier to healthy playtime.

Benefits of Play
We know that during play, children are learning, growing, creating, thinking, imagining and being active. Play has many benefits that are physical, emotional and social.

Children need many different ways to play -- from active to educational to creative. As parents, we must share our concern for the rapid reduction in children's playtime. What can be done?

Help to launch these activities if they don't already exist in your community.

These are a few ideas. I would like to hear about what you do in your community to expand play experiences.

Create play spaces by creating more play areas in stores, museums and in the community. We need to find new ways to encourage more play and create these places where children have access to them. They need exposure to the new and classic toys; they need time to explore play experiences and to try new things.

Visit a children's museum to see how much space is allocated for "free play" with blocks, construction toys and other playthings. If there is not such a space set up, suggest that they create it to allow children to use their own creative process and imagination and build things they cannot create at home or in school.

Ask your local toy store to create special areas for play and encourage more play times where toys and playthings are sold. Toy stores are the places play should begin, even on a small scale with one table if space is limited. Toy stores have responsibility to foster play. Parents learn when they see their children play with a new toy and see how the child will benefit from it. Helping customers to be exposed to new possibilities of playthings is one of the important roles of toy stores, regardless of size. There should be space in every large and small toy store offering some "hands-on" activities and playtime that will benefit the children.

Play Days
Find groups that can support special play day events for creative pursuits like construction toys and arts and crafts, and encourage parents and teachers in your community to do more hands-on activities at home.

Learn more about "The Week of the Young Child" (established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children) and other programs that encourage children and families to participate in play. (Visit Also look at the site that provides information about The Maker Faire ( and the many shows and opportunities offered.

Provide Playthings
Every year, the U.S Marines "Toys for Tots" Program provides much-needed playthings to children who otherwise would do without. Children who are given toys benefit in many ways and most importantly, are not left out. Play is too important to all children for any to be left behind. Please support your local and national "Toys for Tots" program by making donations.

Healthy Play
The health and well-being of children are foremost in our minds. We must continue to think how we can enhance and expand playing experiences for all children everywhere and make playing a priority for them as part of their every day experiences.

We need to also find new ways to encourage parents and teachers to expand the time children are allowed to play every day. Children are eagerly looking for meaningful activities when they are not in school. Children need time to play indoors and outside and with a wide diversity of materials. You want to promote the right of the child to be creative, imaginative and their right to enjoy more physical and peaceful play.

Safe and stimulating play promotes wholesome development and inspires a healthy future. Play is good for everyone!

To learn more read my book, Dr. Toy's Smart Play Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. (Play Quotient), visit my website, Dr. Toy's, or download my new App, Dr. Toy's Best Gift Guide. Also read other articles on play and toys by Dr. Toy on The Huffington Post." target="_hplink">

© 2013 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, Dr. Toy, San Francisco, CA