A new study from the folks at Let’s Play reveals that once kids hit age 9, they stop playing as often. The survey asked parents if their children play every single day: 65 percent said their 3-year-olds do, 50 percent for 4-year-olds, 56 percent for 5-year-olds, 55 percent for 6-year-olds, 61 percent for 7-year-olds and 56 percent for 8-year-olds. And then it gets interesting. Only 26 percent of parents of 9-year-olds say their children play every day.
Let’s Play is from the folks at Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which partner with nonprofit organizations KaBoom! and Good Sports to build playgrounds and provide grants for sports equipment to make more play possible. The survey of 1,002 adults with at least one child was conducted in April by telephone.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Of the parents surveyed, 75 percent believe that their children are playing enough every day, yet only 41 percent said their children were participating in active play every day.
So, what happens at age 9?
A couple of factors, says kids fitness expert Steve Ettinger. As kids get older, school demands go up, as well as the use of technology. They become less likely to participate in free play or want to go outside.
Regular play also becomes less accessible. Instead, as they transition into middle school, play goes from recess and outside time after school to organized sports and groups. If you’re not interested in those, you might stop playing.
Parents surveyed identified what the barriers to play were for their children: 65 percent said it was the kids’ preference to play with technology instead; 56 percent said busy schedules; 62 percent said cost of equipment and participation; 37 percent said there was a lack of safe equipment or play spaces; and 31 percent said their child doesn’t enjoy playing.
Parents — some 70 percent — said they wished they had more time to play with their children. And that’s key. “Family and parents are a huge part of play continuing,” Ettinger says.
He encourages parents to model play, as well do it with their children. That means playing together by getting out the soccer ball, throwing the Frisbee or playing a rousing game of tag. It means creating family time around being active instead of TV watching.
Those middle-school and high-school years can be difficult for parents to get children to do anything. Ettinger encourages parents to team up with the parents of their children’s friends to get them involved in a group activity together. It has to become a social thing, Ettinger says.
For the kids who don’t want to do anything, keep trying new things. They might not want to do a team sport, but they might be happy doing yoga, riding a bike or lifting weights.
Play has a huge benefit, he says. He lists physical, social and emotional benefits, as well as better focus and better sleep.
“Play gets kind of a back seat sometimes,” he says. “But the way it effects school … it helps them to really focus.”
Even if it’s just a short period of time, play helps kids have more energy and be able to focus on homework.
Often kids feel that they have way too much homework to play, but Ettinger says that if they can stop worrying about the amount of work and go for a walk down the street or do 10 minutes of yoga, they will find they are able to focus better and the homework won’t feel insurmountable.
“Most kids … once they start doing it and feel better, they get hooked,” he says.