I have 4 kids and the distance between the age of the oldest and youngest is 15 years. What I can tell you first hand is the way parents feel about their kids "playtime" has changes over the years.
When my son David was little it was OK for parents to pretty much let their kids play the way they wanted to. We only intervened when there was some kind of conflict. When my son James was little, 15 years later, quite a bit had changed. I can recall several parents calling me to schedule "play dates" and literally sitting in my house or on my deck supervising their kids playing with James. Having these parents hanging out in my house just seemed a little over the top to me.
A new report called "The State of Play in America" seems to be saying we need to go back to the good old days. I think it's spot on. The report says parents over schedule their kids and dismiss open play time as "empty time." Here are some things parents should know about playtime:
1. There is no "right way" to play. It doesn't need to be structured or even have toys or other kids.
2. Play is a strategy for learning. Structured programs designed to teach kids a particular skill isn't exactly play. Pressure to make kids learn a skill can have a negative effect on social skills kids learn through play.
3. Recess isn't empty time. It actually helps kids learn. Studies have shown boys especially benefit from recess because they are more attentive afterwards.
4. Play time is safe. Statistics show there's a small chance kids will get hurt during playtime. Parents should give kids space and give them a chance to exercise their own judgement. By doing this kids become more confident and independent.
5. Let kids lead play. It's better to interact with them on their terms. Let them make the decisions about how they want to spend their playtime.
Source: Yahoo Finance