By Lyz Lenz

Recently my friend asked me if I was signing my daughter up for music class. I laughed, “She’s only seven months old and just learned how to clap.” My friend frowned. “I started my daughter when she was six months old.”

And so it begins. Between tummy time, story time, mommy and me class and play dates, my daughter’s days already feel more structured and full than mine. And mommy-pressure aside, we won’t be going to music class or motor skills playgroup and we will be opting out of craft class and mommy and me yoga. I don’t feel guilty either.

Structured activity is eating away at playtime and kids are suffering. The Atlantic Monthly reports, “An article in the most recent issue of the American Journal of Play details not only how much children’s play time has declined, but how this lack of play affects emotional development, leading to the rise of anxiety, depression, and problems of attention and self control.”

And it’s not just big kids who are losing out. During my daughter’s six week check up, the doctor sent me home with a pamphlet outlining developmentally appropriate activities that I should do with my daughter to encourage her growth. From peek-a-boo to dangling toys in front of her, the pamphlet told me I should be interacting and engaging with her during her alert times. “Sing with her and play games,” the pamphlet encouraged and frankly, I found it a little insulting.  And no where in that pamphlet did it say to “let your baby play by her ownself.” I wish it did.

Sure, we play peek-a-boo and I dangle things in front of her, but often, I just sit her on the floor and let her decide which toys she wants to play with and which ones she wants to ignore. Sometimes I watch her and play, but other times, I sit on the couch and read a book or work.  If she fusses (and isn’t hungry or needs a diaper change), I like to let her work it out on her own. She usually does.

Growing up, I cherished evening games of kick-the-can, capture the flag and a complicated game that my brother and I made up called “War”, where everyone was a double agent and you couldn’t touch the pine trees. My siblings and our friends created whole towns with our own currency, painstakingly crafted by my brother, and systems of governance. (I was the mayor two years in a row. After that, we also had term limits.)

Even though she’s still small, I want my daughter to have that time to just be little—to not worry about motor skills, musical ability or age-appropriate development. I just want her to have fun even if that means I have to stand on the sidelines and watch.

Do you let your baby just play?

About the Author:
Lyz Lenz is a writer, a mom and a midwesterner. Although, not in that order. She lives in Iowa and on the web at


A new report finds that structured activity is eating away at playtime and kids are suffering.

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