Unfortunately, this essential component of childhood is often denied in today’s hectic world of school, extracurricular activities, after-school childcare, and after-school clubs. Children’s time is largely scheduled, leaving little to no time for children to engage in unscheduled, free play time.
How Important Is Free Play?
According to research, very! The childhood obesity epidemic is telling us something, but also children’s cognitive, social, psychological, and emotional development are all said to be affected by free play (or the lack of it). Play is also an opportunity for parents to engage with their children without interruption. (This can be really fun for adults!)
The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a report about the importance of play in children’s development. Here are some of the ways children benefit from free play:
- Creativity is employed as children imagine scenarios and act out as characters. This prepares them for adult scenarios, much the same way that baby animals’ play is actually preparation for adulthood.
- Children learn about their strengths and abilities during free play, which may boost confidence. They discover areas of interest and things they care about.
- Playing is an effective way for children to learn how to work together in groups, to give and take, and to resolve conflicts. Free play also encourages decision making, an essential life skill.
How Can Parents Implement More Free Play in Their Kids’ Lives?
Parents can help their kids be free from the hurried, hyper-scheduled lifestyle that is so prevalent today. Here are some ideas on how to do that.
- Give your kids “real” toys, like wooden blocks and dolls that are not patterned after a preconceived character. Doll houses, cars, trucks, stuffed animals, and other toys that encourage imagination help toward encouraging free play.
- Parents may want to rethink their ideas of “success” for their children. Academic preparedness and performance and excelling in multiple areas are not the only measures of success, the AAP reminds us. Creativity, philosophical intelligence, imagination, negotiation, and artistic integrity are also measures of success and character.
- Let your kids play outside without an agenda. Sometimes, it takes an agenda to get them out there – say, collecting leaves or something – but once outside, try to pry yourselves loose from an agenda and just enjoy playing.
- Invite other kids to play, too. Although “play dates” are scheduled, it’s unstructured time you’re scheduling in! Arrange to meet at a park, at one another’s house, or other area where free play can take place.