What happened to play time?

So we’re 3 weeks into school and the homework life has started already. Not that I have an issue with it. Then there is also extra mural (which may I add – we still haven’t decided on only because if Amra had her way, she would do it all, but my budget says no.

The other day, as we got home, I observed her. She didn’t veg by the TV, she didn’t rush off to the fridge for something to eat. She went straight to my room, got on the bed and sighed out of exhaustion as she made herself comfortable. And watching my grade 1 do all of this, it hit me – she’s exhausted. Her day starts at 6am and ends at 8pm. As her mom, I even find my day exhausting. Imagine how she must feel. Children endure a full day and add in some extra things, and we’re dealing with an adult schedule in a child. Is that what their lives have come too? A schedule too busy for them to even be kids.

And it got me thinking: We’re so quick to say that children growing up so fast and will never know what downtime is like. And it is not they are vegging infront of the TV or ipads. It’s purely because their schedules are so full that when they do get downtime, they are just really exhausted and the result is them being glued in front of their TVs, tablets and etc.

Zunaid and I have this rule – while we are fine with our kids having toys, in summer, we prefer offering them experiences, such as, playing in the park, doing hop-scotch, riding their bikes along Sea Point promenade. You won’t find us taking them to the movies or any place where there isn’t natural light. And the golden rule – no mentioning of the “S” (school) and “W” (work) words. So we’ll talk about everything else but those two things.

But have you ever wondered “why play time is so important?” Well for 3 simple reasons:

  1. It is crucial for your child’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth.
  2. It’s quality time between you and your child and a rather structured life can destroy this.
  3. It prevents: exhaustion, aggression, frustration, stress-levels and bad eating habits.

And before you jump on your bandwagon to the notion that I’m making excuses, I’m really not. I read somewhere that children as young as four years are under so much pressure to excel at sport, dancing, music, ballet, and the like, all while keeping up with their school work. The average South African child leaves home at 7am, and will only get to bed at 10pm and that is only if their homework is complete – include some family drama, and you are dealing with an over-exhausted anxious child.

I am not saying that sport is not important – but when parents and children become too busy to just spend time with each other, that is when things need to be reassessed. To a child, nothing is more important than time spent with a parent.

While there are great benefits for children being involved in a number of extramural activities, such as having a wider circle of friends, increased self-confidence, encouraging teamwork, leadership, and discipline – children need unstructured, unscheduled play time and quality time with their parents’.

Here are just some of the signs that your child’s schedule needs to be revised:

  1. They are always tired
  2. Aggression and frustration
  3. School reports show a drop in performance
  4. They are stressed out
  5. Homework is incomplete
  6. Fussy eating or not wanting to eat at all
  7. They do not want to go to school
  8. They want to stop taking part in an activity even if they are good at it

How can you help:

  1. Get the balance right
  2. Make sure your child gets downtime in his or her day
  3. Limit screen-time
  4. Have unstructured playtime – this is vital
  5. Let them play alone so they can just be in their space
  6. Young children really do need about 10 hours of sleep a night
  7. Avoid junk food – a healthy diet and getting their vitamin dose helps


*This article was also written by me for Old Mutual Lifestyle. This time around I just added more of my own opinion as I had the freedom to do so.

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