Play Diet Recommendations: Ages 6-9

Between the ages of 6 and 9, children tend to focus on learning about games with rules, as it coincides with their overall need to learn about the cultural and societal rules rules that govern their lives, as well. Children’s play at this age teaches them not only about cooperation and collaboration, but competition and effort.

Social Play: Games and play become more social in nature, often involving sports related activities, joining an organization such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, or 4H.

Active Play: A healthy play diet for 6-9 year-olds involves lots of active play including bike riding, playing tag, organized sports, swimming, and simply being outdoors.

Creative Play: Creative play at this age involves engaging in activities such as coloring, drawing,  building, or designing things.

Free Play: There’s still a great deal of unstructured play that goes on between the ages of 6 and 9, like playing with dolls and action figures that encourage imagination and story telling.

Digital Play:  Digital play becomes a much more important and independent activity between the ages of 6 and 9, as kids begin to acquire their own digital devices (iPods, gaming consoles, cell phones, computers, etc.), explore their interests through websites and apps, and complete homework assignments that require use of the Internet.  While this increasing independence is natural and healthy, it is imperative that parents keep a watchful eye on all of their kids’ digital activities during this period, as children in this age group simply do not have the capacity to make an independent judgement on what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Digital Play Strategies for children between the ages of 6 and 9:

  • While parents do not need to be sitting over the child’s shoulder at every moment, all digital play should be done in a public area, and parents should check on their child regularly. Appropriate Internet behavior and communication should be established before the child is allowed to use the Internet on their own. Try guiding your child to appropriate, interesting websites like National Geographic Kids to give them a healthy and safe place to surf.
  • Use digital media to teach children important life skills. Just like you would help your child learn to deal with the experience of losing a soccer game, you need to help your children learn from their experiences when playing video games and using other digital media. Try playing a game like Wii Sports Baseball to teach Self-Control or  create something on Glogster with your child to teach them about Organization and Self-Awareness.
  • Model appropriate media behavior with your own digital media use. Pay attention to where and when you talk on your cell phone, how much time you spend surfing the Internet and watching television, and how you speak and act when you get frustrated with your computer, phone, or other digital device. Let them see how you can be productive with Gmail, or creative with Digital Photography, to inspire those types of positive digital interactions   in them.
  • Joint media engagement should be the rule rather than the exception.  As much as possible, either join your children in their digital play or be in the same room where you can talk to them about their experiences. You can even make time for multiplayer games like Mario Kart or LittleBIGPlanet.

How much is too much?

Parents often ask how much time they should allow their 6-9 year-old to play video games or have “screen time.” In answering this question, we believe that parents should focus  on insuring their child is getting a good balance of a variety of play time.  For 6-9 year-olds, we recommend at least  2 – 3 hours of play time per day, bearing in mind that different types of play often overlap. For example, a child playing soccer with his friends is engaged in both social and active play, while a child who is using a computer art program is engaged in both creative and digital play.

In setting a Play Diet for your children, you’ll need to consider which activities they enjoy, and how those activities overlap. Here are a few examples of balanced Play Diets for a 6 – 9 year-old.

Sample Play Diet 1

1 hour playing soccer with friends [Active, Social] 1 hour playing on a playground with friends [Active, Social, Free] 1 hour drawing on an iPad or table [Creative, Digital] ½ hour surfing the Internet [Digital, Free]

Sample Play Diet 2

1 hour playing with dolls with friends [Social, Free] 1 hour chatting with friends online [Digital, Social] 1 hour of dancing [Active, Creative]

As a parent your, goal should not be to schedule your children into strictly regimented Play Diets, but rather to encourage them to engage in all types of play, and ensure that they are not missing out on any valuable play experiences by focusing solely on a few limited play types every day.

To learn more about how children between 6 and 9 can get the most out of digital play, read our post on Online Safety and Child Development: Ages 6-9.  

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