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Pediatrics Academy Stresses Low-Income Students' Need for Playtime


To allow low-income children to reach their full potential, parents and teachers must provide them with ample opportunities to play, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises in a new report.

Play "allows children to develop creativity and imagination while developing physical, cognitive, and emotional strengths," the report authors write.

Play also may be a valuable tool in the fight against childhood obesity, as it provides children a chance to be physically active. Children who learn to live physically active lifestyles when they're younger are often more likely to continue staying active as adults, studies have shown.

Well and Good

But low-income students face a number of unique challenges that may prevent them from engaging in an optimal amount of physical activity, the AAP says.

For schools facing budget cuts these past few years, recess and physical education classes are often some of the first to be eliminated. With increased pressure to perform well on standardized tests, many low-income schools have shifted more attention to academics and less to arts and P.E.

The authors also note that even after-school activities have become more oriented toward academics and less towards physical activity. Again, the effects are more profound in underperforming schools.

Outside of school, students in low-income areas may live in neighborhoods rife with gang activity and drug dealing, the AAP says. If these children can't play outside, instead, they'll often play video games and stay sedentary for multiple hours.

So... is there a simple solution? Unfortunately, no. The AAP notes that multiple factors can factor into a low-income child's lack of playtime, and thus, a singular solution would not be appropriate.

That said, they do offer a few ideas:

• Schools need to focus on students' academics and their social and emotional well-being, the AAP says. They can do so by incorporating physical activity into classroom activities; a study examining a Charleston, S.C., elementary school found this to lead to an increase in test scores.

• Community leaders in low-income areas should arrange safe environments where children can play outside of school. If schools were kept open after-hours, this could boost engagement in after-school physical activity programs, the report suggests.

• And parents of all income levels should spend time at home playing with their children, to bond with their kids and see the world from their eyes. The AAP refutes the idea that expensive toys are necessary for valuable play, saying, "one-on-one play is a time-tested, effective way of being fully present."

The AAP recommends that pediatricians educate parents about the importance of play, both for physical development reasons and for the bonding opportunities that it provides.

The report, titled, "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty," was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Photo: Nasir Washington (center) huddles with his neighbors during a game of touch football on Modoc Avenue in Norfolk, Va. On left is Joe Hill and right is Sincere Washington. (Preston Gannaway/The Virginian-Pilot)

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