Why (and how) to make space for play

When kids get their two hours of daily play, they thrive!

Last month, educator, author, and consultant Rae Pica joined our own Jean Rogers for a thought-provoking discussion about why active, physical play is so important for kids in the digital age. Their Action Network Live! conversation touched on the effects of play on muscle development and spatial awareness, reframing how we approach screen time limits, and what parents and educators can do to encourage play in kids’ lives. 

Here’s what we learned:


Our bodies were not made to sit.

Although work and school make it common for both kids and adults to sit still for hours at a time, our bodies simply aren’t equipped for that much sitting! In fact, research shows that too much sitting makes us tired and less focused – not an ideal state for anyone, child or adult, to absorb new information.


For kids, “movement does not equal misbehavior.”

Movement is actually what kids need to learn best! “By engaging the body as well as the mind, it gives children the opportunity to learn the way they’re meant to learn,” Rae told us. “Through play, through feeling what it’s like to be ‘high,’ ‘low,’ ‘wide,’ and ‘narrow.’ To act out words and really understand them. Once kids have acted ‘enormous’, they never forget it!” In fact, too much sedentary time for kids is much more likely to contribute to misbehavior than too much movement.


Movement and active play is essential to kids’ development.

And not just because it helps them learn better. Kids need a strong foundation of larger muscle groups in order to develop fine motor skills and coordination as they grow. In her conversations with teachers across the country, Rae has heard stories of children struggling with dexterity when they don’t get enough play and movement – some teachers had even noticed that their students had trouble tearing paper or opening the wrapper of a straw.


To decrease screen time, increase playtime!

If screen limits have you stressed, Rae suggests flipping the script: instead of focusing on reducing your child’s screen time, try asking how much physical play time they’re getting. “It’s easier to frame and not quite as argumentative or debatable,” says Rae. Aim for one hour of structured play and one hour of free play every day: when kids get their two hours of daily play, they thrive!


Play is everywhere, if you want it!

To bring more physical play to classrooms, teachers can incorporate movement and active learning into their lessons. Activities like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes or stretching out within the confines of a carpet square can help students learn about personal space. Rae also suggests having students imagine that they’re in a “giant bubble,” and to encourage them to move through a space without touching another classmate’s bubble. And at home, Rae wants parents to know that they don’t have to worry about “having to entertain children” – kids can pretend, create, entertain themselves, or just be bored in the space we give them!

Action Network Live! is a project of CCFC’s Children’s Screen Time Action Network, and brings together experts, parents, and caregivers to talk about critical issues around kids and technology. Learn more about joining the Network, or sign up for our email list to be notified about upcoming events!