The Wellness Roundup With Dr. Jill

A Prescription For Play: The American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. Jill Recommend 60 Minutes of “Free Play” Per Day

Dr. Jill Garripoli Pedalino, owner and pediatrician at Healthy Kids Pediatrics

We all know that the “job” of children is to play. They love to be imaginative, funny, silly, and free to create. We also know that play is taking a back seat these days to more formal childhood activities including preschools with greater emphasis on academics, travel and club sports team participation at earlier ages, and a host of other extracurricular activities that leave families wondering where the day went! Research shows that because of increased academic pressure, 30 percent of kindergartners in the United States are not going out for recess. When two working parents finally come home after a long day of work it is not hard to understand why family dynamics are suffering these days.


Dr. Jill Garripoli Pedalino, Healthy Kids Pediatrics, A Prescription For Play: The AAP recommends 60 minutes of dailyI am so proud of the parents in my practice for figuring out how to juggle it all. It is wonderful to see them so dedicated that they invest significant time and money into giving their young children the opportunities and exposure necessary to manage and thrive in an ever more competitive and stressful world. However, many families I encounter each day are struggling to draw the line and accept that it is okay to just let their child play freely. They often feel that if they don’t “keep up” they will be viewed as lazy or negligent, or worse, their child will fall behind his or her peers. There is the flip side as well where so many children of all ages are spending an obscene amount of time in front of a screen whether it be scrolling through one YouTube video after another, mindlessly watching TV shows, or becoming entranced by Fort Night and other video games which leads to aggression and major behavioral changes when it is time to turn the device off.  When a parent is too exhausted to argue or set boundaries regarding screen time or they are too “time crunched” to turn the TV off and play with their children then the whole family suffers. There has to be a happy medium where children get to experience adequate time learning, exercising, playing, and relaxing and where parents get to experience quality time just playing and engaging with their children while also finding time to take care of their own physical, mental, and emotional health.

New guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all pediatricians write a “prescription for play” at each well child check up. Play with parents and peers allows children to develop healthy brains, learn life skills, and reduce stress. The recommendation is that children get one hour of physical activity per day as well as one hour of simple, creative play. I find it ironic that despite the well-intended effort of parents to engage their children in so many formal activities in order to prepare them for the 21st century world out there they are inadvertently depriving their children of free play which will help to create adults who know how to problem solve, be creative, and be innovative…the very qualities that will help these young children succeed in the future.

Free play has a wide variety of meanings and the beauty of it is that is has no goals or rules and is fun and spontaneous. Free play can be indoor, outdoor, physical rough-and-tumble, or dramatic make-believe play. I vividly remember spending hours of fun making a house out of an empty refrigerator box when my sister and I were young! Play should start soon after birth and continue through the teen years. There are many things parents can do to encourage play and engage meaningfully with their growing children. A recent article in the journal Contemporary Pediatrics (August 2018 edition) spells out ways for parents to engage and I thought it was definitely worth sharing! In addition, I will include a few apps and websites with free educational tools for parents of young children…if we have to co-exist with phones and computers then let’s use them to our advantage in helping our children develop to be the best adults possible!

Remember the AAP’s 5 Rs of Nurturing Brain Development:

  • Read together every day with your child
  • Rhyme, play, and cuddle with your child every day
  • Develop routines, particularly around meals, sleep, and family fun
  • Reward your child with praise for successes to build self-esteem and promote positive behavior
  • Develop a strong and nurturing relationship with your child as a foundation for their healthy development

Young Infants:     

  • Talk/sing to your baby while you hold, feed, or play together
  • Let the baby look at your face
  • Respond to the baby’s gestures, faces, and sounds
  • Give the baby colorful objects to look at, including books and pictures

Older Infants:

  • Copy your baby’s sounds and expressions
  • Play peek-a-boo and patty-cake
  • Teach the baby to wave “bye bye” and to shake his/her head “no” and “yes”
  • Read books together–point to characters and let the baby pat and taste the book


  • Encourage and support your toddler and set appropriate limits
  • Be consistent–establish routines for meals, naps, and bedtime
  • Make time to play daily
  • Encourage drawing, building, and creative play
  • Introduce simple musical instruments
  • Acknowledge desirable behavior often (catch them being good!!)

Children of All Ages:

  • Give a lot of warm physical contact and attention; this promotes a sense of security and well-being
  • Be aware of their moods
  • Read their gestures, faces, and sounds
  • Respond when they are upset and when they are happy
  • Read and tell stories daily (bedtime routines)
  • Speak second languages
  • No television for children less than 18 months old; instead spend time playing together
  • Limit television and video time to less than 2 hours per day of educational viewing for children older than 18 months of age and view programs with your child


  • Text4Baby– (Free text messaging app that sends weekly text messages on promoting child development from early childhood to elementary age)
  • Ready4K– (Free text messaging app that sends 3 text messages a week aimed at supporting healthy child development to parents of children aged from birth to 3rd grade)
  •– (App with activities to promote developmental skills in math, literacy, problem solving, self-control, and communication; provides badges and encouragement when tasks are completed)



-Dr. Jill 🙂


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