Why kids have a shortage of free time and what parents can do about it

(BPT) - A typical school night can get pretty hectic. Once the kids get home, there's a scramble to get to after-school activities, then dinner and finally, homework.

For families that are feeling the schedule squeeze this school year, here's some news that might make you feel good about cutting an activity or two from the lineup. Kids not only crave free time, they need it. And new research by GoGo squeeZ suggests they're not getting enough.

The importance of unstructured time

Seventy-two percent of parents feel that their kids have less free and unstructured time when compared to their own childhoods, according to a recent survey commissioned by GoGo squeeZ, the makers of all-natural 100 percent fruit in a pouch.

'What people often don't realize is play has a purpose,' says Dr. Robert Murray, pediatrician, author and child health expert, 'and parents aren't always aware of its full benefits.'

Why are kids getting so little free time? Part of the answer is parents' good intentions. Eighty-five percent of parents believe sports and activities lead to greater success in life, according to the survey.

In reality, 'It's the social and emotional interactions that are the important benefit, not the sport itself,' says Murray. 'The social and emotional skills that come from social interactions are an even greater predictor of later success than IQ."

Kids need more time for quality, unstructured activities. That's why GoGo squeeZ is championing an idea called BE Time, which is the quality 'kid-time' needed to nourish the imagination, creativity, bodies and relationships of kids. To make time for BE Time, try some of these strategies from Murray to work in an extra 30 minutes of unstructured time per day.

Make errands interactive: Whether you're driving, at an appointment or grocery shopping, it's easy to placate restless children with devices for a moment's peace. It's well worth the extra effort to turn these moments into shared experiences. For example, at the grocery store, 'read labels together with young children and ask them to find interesting fruits or vegetables to feel and smell,' Murray says. 'Ask older children to help plan dinner and to compare the cost of certain items as a way to learn basic life skills."

Give kids tools to make and invent: Inspire some free-time creativity, where they can let their imaginations go wild. Keeping supplies and toys that inspire creative play will give them plenty to facilitate free-time creativity. Keep costumes and props, toys and art supplies at the ready and watch their imaginations go wild.

Plan family outings: Look for places that let kids freely explore and make their own choices on how to play, including parks, swimming pools, nature centers, zoos and museums. While there, follow their lead instead of rushing them along to the next thing. If a hands-on exhibit catches their attention, give them the freedom to explore.

Put the kids in charge: Give kids time to be in charge of their own activities, so they have a chance to de-stress, regain their mental balance and encode memories of the things they learned in school on their own. 'If you feel the need to provide structure and safety, identify an opportunity that makes everyone feel comfortable,' Murray says. 'Watch your kids ride their bikes or take them to the playground, a museum, a farm, and let them decide how to explore it.'

Set an example: Show kids that it's important for parents to have unstructured time too! By reading a book, catching up with friends or spending time outside, kids will follow your lead. 'The idea of 'BE Time' is a great conversation starter for parents and grandparents,' Murray says, as 'it encourages them to rethink the importance of slowed-down, more unplanned free time in a child's life.'

To learn how you can commit to giving your children 30 more minutes of #BEtime every day, visit BEtime.org.

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