According to a new joint report issued last week by child psychologist Dr Sam Wass and Center Parcs, well-meaning parents are over-timetabling their children who “work” nine hours more than the adult average of 37 hours.
The study says most children have an average of just one hour and 29 minutes free on a week day.
As a result, a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Free Time of three hours and 51 minutes, has been developed by Dr Wass, best known from Channel 4’s ‘Secret Life of 4 and 5 Year -Olds’ and commissioned by Center Parcs.
The RDA, which was inspired by the government guidelines we use for fruit and vegetables, is based on three hours on a week day and six hours a day at the weekend, calculated using time needed for a variety of free-time activities which will allow children to use their imagination and develop their creative thinking.
According to the new figure, children currently have a free-time deficit of two hours and 22 minutes per day, which is created when they begin primary school and their days are filled with extra-curricular activities and scheduled events.
So much so, 44% of the children interviewed believe that they do more in a day than their parents.
Dr Sam Wass said: “Many parents are desperate to do the right thing for their children - we shuttle them back and forth from school, to football, to an after-school club, and then get them home and sit and ensure they do their homework.
“But in fact, research suggests that it’s much more beneficial for children if their time is not always so structured. It’s the down-time, when there is not so much going on and the child has to entertain themselves, when they do their best learning. There is a huge amount of research that suggests that this child-led, unstructured free play is vital for stimulating imagination and creativity, as well as helping the child to become more self-sufficient.”
On an average day, children wake at 6.55am and go to bed at 8.01 pm and are currently spending 35 minutes in clubs, 32 minutes on homework and rehearsing, 50 minutes reading and 14 minutes helping with housework, in addition to the normal school day.
On top of this is time spent on eating, bathing and travelling for school and activities, which 60% of parents admit to signing their kids up to to ease their own guilt and ensure they give them opportunities.
Television, playing on tablets, phones or computers and other digital distractions accounts for 6 hours and 49 minutes a week – or 65% of the free time available to them.
When given the choice of what to do when bored, 67% of children interviewed said they would watch TV over anything else. However, when asked what they actually enjoy doing the most, playing outside comes out on top.
The RDA for Free Time
Recommending three hours 51 minutes a day, the RDA provides enough time for children to participate in a range of free-time activities which will allow them time to play, use their imagination and develop their thinking.
Colin Whaley, marketing director at Center Parcs said the report shows that parents are really going above and beyond to do what they think is best for their child.
“As a parent myself, I was initially taken aback by the suggested recommended daily allowance, but it gave me food for thought about whether or not my own children currently achieve it,” he said.
“Clubs and sport play an important role for their development and life skills but creating a balance with some more simple time out together is clearly very important.
“We commissioned this report to further understand family life and what challenges parents and children are facing and overcoming, so we can always ensure we’re offering what they need. What has undoubtedly come out of this is the need for families – parents and children alike – to take time out to relax. We are passionate about creating the best environment for families to experience this, and insights such as these are invaluable for us to create the best short break possible.”
To help families across the UK discover if they are giving themselves enough free time, Center Parcs has created an online ‘Free Time Calculator’ where users can input the amount of time they spend on activities per day and the calculator can show how they stack up against the RDA.
To try the calculator and view top tips on how to help children make the most of their free time, visit http://blog.centerparcs.co.uk/recommended-daily-free-time/