Health & Wellness Interviews & Guest Posts Over 50s Lifestyle

Why Play is Important: Connecting the Dots with Leisure

June 6, 2016
Let children play

Last week I wrote about How Midlife does not have to be a crisis but rather it can be a positive experience if we have the right attitude.  I also mentioned that I would be introducing women experiencing midlife and I’m delighted to have introduce our first guest, Terri Webster Schrandt from Second Wind Leisure Perspectives.

Terri is a women of midlife, who loves being active and is passionate about living a healthy leisure lifestyle.  On her website, Terri shares her experiences and ideas of ways to enjoy our leisure time and why it is so important to not only to us but to our children and grandchildren.  At the end of her post you can find the links to her website and social media.

In her article, Terri examines the Importance of Play especially allowing children to experience unstructured leisure time and also connect with nature.

Why play time is important

Terri writes…..

If you were born before 1985, do you remember play time at school during recess? We had 20 to 30 minutes three times a day(!) to play dodge-ball, four-square, tag, marbles, etc.

I’m reading Pastimes: The Context of Contemporary Leisure by Ruth V. Russell. It is a textbook I use when I teach my recreation and leisure courses.

“If unstructured play is so crucial to intellectual development, why is it disappearing?” pg. 82, Russell.

This quote should resonate strongly with parents and even grandparents who interact with children. Russell talks about how children have lost 8 hours of free, self-organized play per week!  We know that schools in the U.S. have all but abolished play time in the form of recess, P.E. and shortened lunch time play in favor of spending more time in the classroom, preparing for standardized tests.

playing in the ocean

Many parents are afraid their children will be abducted from their front yards or streets if allowed to play outdoors unsupervised. The facts are that most child abductions are not stranger abductions, nor are they random. But that still does not encourage parents to let their children out of their sight.

Because of these fears, now days, most children are placed into leader-led, organized play programs with start and stop times and expected outcomes. Municipal parks and recreation agencies have been providing a variety of recreation and leisure activities and experiences for the better part of the 20th century and beyond.

American society has come to depend on organizations providing recreation in our daily cultureClick To Tweet

children playing on scooters

American society has come to depend on organizations providing recreation in our daily culture—in fact we have come to expect it. I should know…I held this job for 35 years and am grateful. As we hurry through our busy lives, grabbing leisure where we can get it, it makes sense to have someone else schedule our leisure, and our children’s. Without parks and recreation agencies, people would have to spend more time looking for and planning for leisure.

Baby Boomer and older Gen-X parents spent years structuring their Millennial children’s leisure time. A typical schedule after school may have looked like this: Monday was ballet, Tuesday and Thursday was soccer practice, Wednesday and Friday was music lesson or (you fill in the blank). Saturday was game or performance day. Pretty busy for the whole family and no down time to just relax.

Ask any Millennial adult now how they feel about unstructured time. He or she will likely look at you and ask, “What?” Most Millennials lived very structured lives as children and now find it difficult to seek unstructured leisure time. Each semester, when I teach my recreation and leisure courses, we discuss this and students share this fact with me this over and over.

Russell goes on to say that the problem of unstructured play is mirrored in adults. We treat play and leisure time as a luxury in adulthood. More studies show that even older adults enjoy the health benefits of play and leisure and can still learn and improve cognitive development with hobbies.

Because of the lack of unstructured play time in our society, this generation’s children are also disconnected from nature. Again, it comes down to parents not letting their kids play outdoors in free play out of fear. I encourage parents to read the book, The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. The theme of this book is “saving our children from nature-deficit disorder.”


Years ago, I took a group of lifeguards to Squaw Valley to provide supervision on a field trip for one of our day camp programs. Day camp participants rode up from inner-city Sacramento on three buses. They had choices in activities in which they could participate and received wristbands so we could identify the groups. One of the choices was to swim in the large swimming pool where we had lifeguards posted.

A group of young African-American girls were sitting in the spa next to the pool, which overlooks a vista of pine-forested Sierra Nevada mountains. I overheard one young girl telling her friend that she was never going to take off her wristband. The other girl asked why. She replied, “I want to remember this place forever. I will never be able to come here again.”

Upon hearing this, as tears welled up in my eyes, I realized why we provide outdoor leisure experiences to children. On their own, and within their own circumstances, these experiences may be the only opportunity some children ever have in experiencing nature and the outdoors. Squaw Valley is only a two-hour drive from Sacramento, but you can bet that most of these kids will indeed never set foot there again in their lifetimes.


children playing

While I do not have a definitive solution to this notion of allowing children unstructured time, I hope my blog can shed some light on leisure time and the way we can view leisure and play as a necessity of life.

By Terri Webster Schrandt (First published on January 14, 2015)

Meet Terri Webster Schrandt

Terri Webster Schrandt


Terri Webster Schrandt is a university leisure educator and retired recreation and parks practitioner who decided to embark on writing a blog about it all.  Happily married her second time around, she loves to stand-up paddle, camp, write, work-out, read and attempts to windsurf now and then.

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  • Reply Jodie filogomo June 6, 2016 at 23:13

    What a great topic to ponder!!
    My husband always recounts how as kids they would play baseball outside, explore the woods, and climb the trees all summer long—now it seems like most kids spend their time indoors!!

    • Reply Terri Webster Schrandt June 7, 2016 at 06:30

      Thanks, Jodie! Seems our generation really enjoyed the outdoors. We were no more safe than anyone is now. But these younger generations are sure a lot more obese thatn ours was/is!

      • Reply Sue Loncaric June 7, 2016 at 08:53

        Thanks for being a guest writer on my website Terri. It is such an important topic and yes obesity in children and adults are at record highs. We need to get the message out that sitting in front of a computer or TV is detrimental to our health. We need to let our children be children and run around outside, experiencing nature and the fresh air.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 7, 2016 at 08:51

      Thanks Jodie, I really enjoyed Terri’s post and it is true that children are entertained more inside with computer games and TV thank being allowed out into nature and the fresh air. Have a lovely day.

  • Reply Carol Cassara June 7, 2016 at 09:03

    Creative and unstructured play are super important. Great post today!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 7, 2016 at 09:50

      Thanks Carol, I love Terri’s approach.

  • Reply Toni McCloe June 7, 2016 at 09:36

    It’s sad that we have to teach others how to play. I drive a school bus and I hear my students complain all the time about not getting more than five minutes of recess. I find this unbelievable. As a child I was always outside with my sisters, my cousins and my friends.

  • Reply Rena McDaniel June 7, 2016 at 10:00

    I couldn’t agree with this more. I was very upset when I found out they had taken recess out of the school day. My kids were born in 89 and 92. I think it has had such a negative effect with the form of children acting out and low test scores. I think that quite a few years ago the schools decided that dollars were more important that futures and started making decisions solely prompted on dollars.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 7, 2016 at 10:10

      In Australia we still have recess Rena however the age of technology has taken over as a babysitter and in learning. Laptops, ipads are part of a child’s toys these days and obesity is a huge problem. We need to get our kids active but we also need to lead by example and show them how being fit and healthy makes for a happier life. The world’s priorities are out of whack!

  • Reply Ellen Dolgen June 7, 2016 at 10:02

    I have fond memories of playing the in the street with all my the neighborhood kids every day after school. I knew had to be home at a certain time for dinner. We didn’t have cell phones- our parents had no idea what we were doing, nor did they worry. Life today is so complex and filled with security issues. It’s sad that creative unstructured play has gone by the wayside.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 7, 2016 at 10:11

      It was a much simpler life then Ellen wasn’t it? My grandson is 2 years old and both his parents and I make sure he gets time with nature, playing in the park and just using his imagination. It is so important for children to learn to amuse themselves and to get outside and run around carefree.

  • Reply Cathy Lawdanski June 7, 2016 at 11:24

    In the 1960’s when I was a kid, I had free reign in the neighborhood, playing outside, unsupervised all day until dark. Wasn’t so free with my own kids, who grew up in the 90’s. We lived on a cul-de-sac full of families, so they did have free play outside, being checked on periodically by the moms. As long as they stayed on the cul-de-sac, they were Ok. My grandson who is 8, never plays out front by himself. He’ll have friends over to the house or go to his friend’s houses, but unsupervised, free play is out because of fear of children being abducted these days. Very sad. Great post, Terri.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 8, 2016 at 09:26

      It is a shame isn’t Cathy – the innocence of youth is lost I fear. I know even when I mind my grandson I’m constantly aware of where he is at all times. Oh to bring back the days of playing in the street with the other kids and having to be called in for dinner.

    • Reply Terri Webster Schrandt June 8, 2016 at 09:53

      Thank you, Cathy! I have the same memories. Walking my dog yesterday morning, I actually saw a couple of young boys (age 8-10) riding their bikes to school (maybe 6 blocks from their home). Did my heart good!

  • Reply Carolann June 7, 2016 at 12:20

    Oh my gosh, playing outside was a key element in development and communication. Both my children has recess outdoors and they were born in 77 and 81. I really feel so badly for the children that don’t get to experience that but then again, abduction is so freaking real and scary. I can see why things have changed.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 8, 2016 at 09:27

      Hi Carolann! Yes I was surprised to read that, because we still have recess in school in Australia although there are all these restrictions on what kids can and cannot do in the playground – for fear of being sued! I loved just playing outside with the other kids until it was dark. Unfortunately you can’t allow that now. Great post from Terri.

  • Reply Leanne June 7, 2016 at 12:38

    Those comments about recess brought back so many memories of marbles, square ball, skippy, elastics, cats cradle, tree climbing etc – our kids grew up on a semi-rural block and got to have some of that freedom but I don’t think my grandkids will have as much – it’s a bit sad really and definitely something to be aware of!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 8, 2016 at 09:29

      I know Leanne, I remember the ‘warm’ milk at recess as well LOL:) Today there are do’s and don’t’s put on recess and playtime in schools it is such a shame. You will need to take Sophia to the park and let her run free when she is at that stage.

  • Reply Lois Alter Mark June 7, 2016 at 12:48

    It makes me sad that kids today don’t get to just have unstructured time to use their imaginations. Although there’s so much that’s good about technology, we need to get away from it more than we do!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 8, 2016 at 09:30

      I think it is a matter of finding Balance Lois. There should be time for both and especially time to let children be children and use their imaginations playing outdoors. I suppose that it is up to parents and grandparents to find ways to make that happen. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Reply Janie Emaus June 7, 2016 at 13:21

    Much to think about. I love it when my grandson (11) gets on his skateboard and takes off with his friends.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 8, 2016 at 09:31

      Hi Janie! Yes my grandson is only 2 years old so I wonder what the world will be like when he is 11. It is great that your grandson gets out and about with his friends and is enjoying his leisure time.

  • Reply Estelle June 7, 2016 at 14:18

    I try to find ways for my daughter to play outside, and she really enjoys doing it. It’s important for kids to be kids.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 8, 2016 at 09:33

      Exactly Estelle. Each Wednesday, I look after my grandson who is two years old. He loves playing in the garden and getting dirty, loves the park and just loves to be outside playing with his little dog. You are so right in saying ‘it is important for kids to be kids’. Your daughter is lucky to have a mum like you. x

  • Reply MaryBeth Crissman June 8, 2016 at 10:08

    Amen! One of my biggest frustrations in my years as a teacher (12 years in middle school!) is that kids don’t know how to entertain themselves anymore. We have built a culture of providing endless entertainment, and now kids are literally at a loss for what to do when that stream of stimuli stops. They don’t know how to be bored and use their imagination. I desperately want my almost-a-toddler son to learn to self-entertain and use his own creativity to hold his attention. Of course, we live on ten wooded acres, so it should be easier for him to find trouble to get into. 🙂

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 9, 2016 at 11:59

      It must be so frustrating for you MaryBeth. Take away TV, ipads and iphones and they are lost! Fortunately my daughter, son-in-law and I are all on the same page with my 2 year old grandson. Lots of playing outside, using imagination and having fun. He is so good at entertaining himself – watching ants or lizards in the garden, playing with his little dog. I hope he never loses that but I know I’m dreaming unfortunately.

  • Reply Melissa Ruddy June 13, 2016 at 09:31

    I am so glad someone wrote about this. I have been struggling with this myself with my children. It is so hard not to overschedule our children. Just as you said I always felt I needed to provide structured activities for my children to do. This continued every weekend until I totally exhausted myself and burn out. It just don’t work. Now I am trying my best to limit our extra activities and allow them to have time to just play in the yard or in their rooms. I has been great for them and for me. Great post.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 13, 2016 at 16:47

      What you say is so true Melissa. I see parents putting filling their children’s schedules with all of these ‘activities’ when what they really need is some down time and good old fashioned play. You have the right attitude – lucky children to have a Mum like you!

  • Reply Be Brave & Be Open - Sizzling Towards Sixty June 15, 2016 at 08:03

    […] Why Play is Important: Connecting the Dots with Leisure  – Terri Webster Schrandt […]

  • Reply Michele June 18, 2016 at 00:40

    I am saddened by the demise of unstructured time. It infuriates me that schools have done away with recess in such of higher test scores. I also worry that recent news- the alligator abduction and the toddler with the gorilla will cause parents to have an even tighter reign on children, never letting them alone for a second, never free to wander and play. It is a tough society we live in. With less play, no wonder we are all so wound up!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric June 18, 2016 at 12:04

      Exactly! I was surprised to read that in the U.S. there is no recess time for play. We still have this in Australia but who knows for how long. Let the children use their imagination and enjoy playtime. They are children for such a short time. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Reply 11 Free or Low Cost Ways to have fun with children - Sizzling Towards Sixty June 27, 2016 at 09:02

    […] These days we feel the need to entertain our children every minute of every day.  My friend Terri Webster Schrandt, from Second Wind Leisure Perspectives, recently wrote a guest post for me about how children and adults are losing the ability to have unstructured play.  Click here if you would like to read it. […]

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