Imagine a drug that could enhance a child's creativity, critical thinking and resilience. Imagine that this drug were simple to make, safe to take and could be had for free.
The nation's leading pediatricians say this miracle compound exists. In a new clinical report, they are urging doctors to prescribe it liberally to the children in their care.
What is this wonder drug? Play.
"This may seem old-fashioned, but there are skills to be learned when kids aren't told what to do," said Dr. Michael Yogman, a Harvard medical School pediatrician who led the drafting of the call to arms.
Whether it's rough-and-tumble physical play, outdoor play or social or pretend play, children derive important lessons from the chance to make things up as they go, he said.
The advice, issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, might come as a shock to some parents. After spending years fretting over which toys to buy, which apps to download and which skill building programs to send their children to after school, letting them simply play - or better yet, playing with them - could seem like a step backward.
The pediatricians insist that it's not. The academy's guidance doesn't include specific recommendations for the dosing of play. Instead, it asks doctors to advise parents before their babies turn 2 that play is essential to healthy development. It also advocates for the restoration of play in schools.
"Play is not frivolous," the academy's report declared. It nurtures children's ingenuity, cooperation and problem-solving skills - all of which are critical for a 21
-century workforce. It lays the neural groundwork that helps us "pursue goals and ignore distractions."
In the pediatricians' view, essentially every life skill that's valued in adults can be built up with play.
"Collaboration, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, decision-making, a sense of agency, creativity, leadership, and increased physical activity are just some of the skills and benefits children gain through play," they wrote.