Siblings and friends would be better off playing among themselves than being shuttled between swimming, dancing and music lessons, the research indicates.
Experts believe a lack of free play time is stifling children’s imagination, independence and self-confidence. It can also lead to hyper-activity, they claim.
Kris Murray, a child behavioural specialist, said: “Parents shouldn’t worry about organising their children’s time but instead give them the space and permission to create their own fun.
“Free, unstructured play – such as creating pretend games – allows children to explore the world around them and teaches them to express themselves, developing key skills for adulthood such as decision-making skills and self-confidence.
“Kids have fertile imaginations which should be developed in these formative years to help build the social skills essential for later life.”
The average child now attends at least two after-school classes a week, according to the study, commissioned by Persil for its Every Child Has The Right campaign.
It discovered that four in 10 parents said they had noticed that free play helped their child develop confidence while a third found their children were more focused and better behaved as a result.
More than a third (37 per cent) thought structured entertainment-based activities left their children hyper-active while two thirds said it was difficult to get them to bed afterwards.