Remember the days of playing dress up, climbing trees or running like the wind trying to chase a friend. Most people have very fond memories of their childhood with all the games they played, the jokes they laughed at and the friends they made. Kids today are being deprived of these simpler joys of childhood. Unstructured play, where children are left to their own devices, to create or invent games, imagine stories, play dress up, seems to be a thing of the past.
With busier lives and a less safer world than when we grew up, parents turn to indoor activities and lessons for organized sport or music to keep their children busy.
According a study conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, children turn to electronic entertainment for a shocking 7.5 hours a day.
Adult supervised play and organized lessons are of course very important for children and help bring predictability to their day. However all children also need some time for free or unstructured play during the day. Just a time off from goals, rules, defined activities They need time to explore their surroundings instead of being told how and what to play. As children play, let their creativity shine, they also learn.
“Unstructured play enables children to take initiative, use their imaginations, develop flexibility to adapt to various circumstances and environments and think on their feet. ”
A lot of the toys today have buttons and preprogrammed actions and prompts. So while your children might learn his rhymes and alphabets much quicker, is he also learning to think outside the box, to have multiple solutions to a problem at hand, to communicate and negotiate with his peers. It is not uncommon today to see three kids sitting together, each with a tablet of their own.
Unstructured play not only promotes intellectual and cognitive growth but also promotes emotional intelligence, and benefits social interactions. Children are able to connect to their peers better when playing together. They need to decide which games to play, agree upon the rules of the games and take into consideration the opinions of other children too. This helps children develop adaptability, better communication skills and empathy.
A lot of parents might struggle with the concept of unstructured play. It’s hard for a parent to get over their protective instincts when it comes to their children and let them play without constant supervision, especially outside. Due to many fears such as strangers, traffic accidents, germs and illnesses, parents often think that confining their children indoors would be a better idea. They also try to offer every advantage to their children to excel in the present day competitive world, often loading their schedules with classes, sports and extracurricular activities. This leads to lesser free time for kids to play, explore, imagine without any inhibitions.
While it is admirable what lengths today’s parents would go for their kids, I believe we are also creating a dependency. Our children now expect us to entertain them. My mother often wonders how we entertained ourselves. We didn’t have many toys, didn’t really have Netflix and Youtube but she never had to entertain us. My son on the other hand, has more toys than I had throughout my entire childhood. He watches about half an hour to an hour of television on most days. And yet, I feel gulity if I sit down to work on something and he is playing alone. Somewhere down the line, it became normal for parents to entertain their children constantly.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for parents spending quality time with their children.
“Coddling our kids, thinking for them, constantly setting up rules and expectations for them, all the while, we have a ton of chores piling up and can’t wait for bedtime, isn’t healthy for our children.“
We need to keep a fine balance between the safety and well-being of children, extracurriculars and giving them the freedom of playing and exploring the world around them independently. There is no one correct way of doing things but hopefully soon free play will start being an essential part of the day for all children so they can reap all the many benefits that come with it.