Dr. Angela Mattke, of Mayo Clinic, speaks during the “Remembering the Learning Power of Play” event Tuesday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in downtown Rochester.

According to a Gallup poll, on average, children spend 18.6 hours per week play on screens.

“This is starting to be a societal issue,” said Beth Sherden, the director of Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester.

On Tuesday evening, the children’s museum hosted a talk by Mayo Clinic pediatrician Angela Mattke, who told community members about the importance of play. Mattke emphasized the importance of increasing play time and reducing screen time for children, specifically children under age 5.

According to studies done by the American Association of Pediatrics, play helps build motor skills, social skills, creativity and learning.

Mattke is worried about the current trends in school and in parenting styles.

“There is a lot of emphasis on test scores, enrichment, and grades,” said Mattke. As a result, children are given less time to have free play, a type of play that allow for adults to help build a child’s skills by building off of skills the child already possesses, a process experts call scaffolding.

“Adults provide balance, which allows kids to focus on one aspect,” Mattke said on how adult and parent support in play can aid development. An example of scaffolding is doing a puzzle with a child, and after seeing them struggle to place a piece, showing them how to do it.

Mattke also emphasized how play builds traits that future employers will look for, such as taking risks, testing boundaries and being creative.

Other local teachers have voiced their concerns about the attitudes parents have towards play.

Local preschool teachers Kris Peterson and Kay Battista, who attended the meeting, expressed their concern over how preschool and kindergarten programs have been changing.

“There is a lot of worksheets and sitting and lecturing,” said Peterson about the way kindergarten classrooms are now being structured. Both Peterson and Battista talked about the pressure the school feels from parents who want to see their child working more on numbers and letters, and spending less time playing.

It is not just children’s lack of play in school that can affect their learning, but also the amount of screen time kids get at home.

“An iPad does not equal a pacifier or babysitter,” Mattke said.

Mattke also reminded parents that the amount they spend on their own phones can hurt their child’s development, even if they are keeping their children away from screens. She cited a Gallup study that indicated that more phone use by a parent correlated with an increase of conflict between a child and their parent.

Parents are suggested to get involved with their children’s play, as it will help create connections that are important for stability later in children’s lives.

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Sara was the 2019 summer intern in the Post-Bulletin newsroom. She is a student at the University of Missouri, where she studies journalism. She plans to graduate in 2021.