Gone are the days when young kids could wander off to the park with their friends. Now they are supervised at all times, rushing from school to ballet classes and from piano lessons to soccer practice. And when we don’t have anything on, often we put our kids in front of screens to keep them busy.
Yet, free play is the best type of play for young children and it’s important to make time for it. Free play is the kind of play that just happens naturally when children are left to themselves to decide what to do next. Here are some of the benefits of free play for children.
- They develop their creativity. When they’re not told what to do, they naturally come up with new ways to create and keep themselves entertained.
- They learn about themselves, their likes and dislikes. They also learn that it’s ok to follow their inklings and their curiosity.
- They practice social interactions, which are very different in an unstructured environment than when they are in a class with a teacher.
- They practice independent play and being ok in their own company.
You can be a part of your children’s free play, too, by letting them lead you to whatever they want to do. It’s a great opportunity to connect with them and get to know them on a deeper level.
I’ve observed all these benefits watching my own children. They are constantly coming up with new ideas, running, imagining they’re pirates, firemen, princesses, mums and dads, laughing and making a whole lot of mess (that’s just part of the process). Most of the time their games are very inclusive. There’s usually a role for their little sister, who gets to be the baby princess or the baby pirate, although sometimes they ask me to look after her while they make art.
Some parents may be concerned that, if left with nothing to do, children will just sit there and get bored. That may actually happen for a while when you’re transitioning from your child being constantly occupied to a more unstructured environment, but it’s temporary. For a brief period of time, when my son was around 3, he was watching too much TV while I was busy with his baby sister. Soon I noticed marked change in his behaviour. He’d be more irritable, go into tantrums easier and wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he wasn’t entertained. That’s when I turned the TV off and it was difficult for both of us to cope for about a week. Then he started reconnecting with his own resourcefulness again, coming up with games and returning to his own happy self.
Fast forward 4 years. My son and I were talking about play and I asked, “What if you don’t know what to play?” The answer was, “What?” He couldn’t even imagine that as a possibility. How could you possibly not know what to play?
Image by amyelizabethquinn via pixabay.com
By Tatiana Apostolova