Therapist to Parents: Don’t Forget Free Play This Summer

It's summertime, summertime, sum-, sum-, summertime! For some kids, that means little league, play groups, swim lessons, camping, summer school, dance class and many other activities. But hold on a second! All of those structured activities may be doing more harm than good. A University of Missouri occupational therapist says that toddlers and elementary-aged kids need unstructured playtime during the summer, in part, to help with their emotional and physical development. In fact, a lack of unstructured playtime might be the reason today's young adults have trouble with problem-solving or critical thinking.

"Play is the vehicle for the development of many major life skills," said Lea Ann Lowery, a clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy in the MU School of Health Professions. "Children can work on simple, basic social skills such as taking turns, interacting with others and following directions and fine motor skills such as dressing, cooking and hand-eye coordination during play time. While some structured play is fine, overly structured play doesn't encourage critical thinking and problem-solving skills."

Lowery also said that playtime doesn't need to be expensive. Most children can develop their imagination skills with stuff around the house or old standby games that require no accessories. Empty boxes, plastic bins, cans and lids can become spaceships, drum sets or cages for plastic animals. Other activities include "I Spy," "Simon Says" or "Memory" that need nothing more than an outdoor setting or a deck of cards.

Anecdotally, Lowery is concerned about some trends related…

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