When you think about your childhood what’s the first thing that comes into mind?
For me it’s all the fun I had.
I remember playing with my friends in schools, in the neighborhood, in parks and in people’s yards. Play was such a big part of my childhood and I bet it was a big part of your childhood too.
Now think one moment about your childhood and think about your kid’s childhood…do you feel your kid is playing enough? Are they getting enough play time at school? Are they getting enough play time at home? Do they have freedom when they play or are you constantly hovering over them?
By play time, I don’t mean being in front of the TV or an iPad, but just good ol’ playing. How often does your child come up with creative play ideas all on their own?
What would happen if you’d give your child an empty box, paper, markers, a few supplies and walk away?
This post is sponsored by the amazing resource Genius of Play, although everything written in this post is my own opinion.
As a parent I wonder if my kids are getting enough play time… and what concerns me the most is if my kids are getting enough of unsupervised play time.
Why unsupervised play time?
Studies have shown that unsupervised play is crucial to a child’s development. They learn to be creative, they become more aware of the dangers surrounding them, they become more independent and learn to self-regulate. Plus they’re overall healthier since kids tend to gravitate towards activities that keep them active and outdoors.
But, how can we let our kids play unsupervised when society has changed so much? When letting your kids play out in the yard alone might end up with a cop knocking on your cop? When letting your kids roam around the neighborhood might end up with CPS taking them into custody?
Yes, that might sound a little extreme, but it’s the reality we live in. We went from “it takes a village” to “fend for yourself”. How will this affect our children and this generation?
As a parent myself I would love for my kids to have more unsupervised play but I’m also scared. Scared that they might run into trouble, scared that they might get lost, scared that they might get hurt…
So, how do we find that balance between our fears, demands from society and what’s best for our children?
We start little by little.
Unsupervised free play does not mean you’re going to let your 2 year old roam around in the streets by themselves but it might mean that you will leave a few toys in a child-proof room for them to explore on their own.
How can you encourage unsupervised free play in your children?
This doesn’t mean walk away and leave your child alone but stand back and let them explore and experiment. Let them walk up in the playground structure and test their abilities, let them figure out how to solve a problem, give them space to get creative with open ended play.
You can be there but not hover over them. You can be close by but let them make decisions and figure out what’s the next step. If we jump into help them every time they need help, and even before they ask for it, we are causing more damage than actually helping them.
Kids learn by playing.
Don’t tell them how to play
Creativity and problem resolution skills are developed during free play. Don’t hand your child a game and tell them how to play it. Instead hand them random things and let them get creative.
Go into another room and let your child know he can call you when he needs help.
Let them use their imagination to turn a game into an adventure, let them find new ways to play with the same items and let them play with basic boundaries but not ones that will limit what they’re capable of doing.
Build up trust
Your child needs to trust you and you need to trust them. This starts will small tasks and they vary according to your child’s age.
If your child is young, you can ask him to bring the toys they left in the yard by themselves. If this makes your nervous, you can watch what they’re doing, but make sure they don’t see you. You’re building up their trust and confidence.
The more confident a child is, the better decision they will make in life.
As your child gets older, you can ask for more complex tasks that will build that trust.
Let your children come up with their own schedule
Do you remember when you were a child you were to play whatever you wanted for as long as you wanted? Give your child the same freedom.
Don’t schedule activities every single day after school and every weekend, instead, give them the freedom to discover what they want to do. They might realize they like a certain type of activity, sports or game because they had enough free time to actually discover it.
Do not forget the importance of free play
In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals rather than as obedient or rebellious subordinates. (Source)
Check out Genius of Play
Need play ideas? Play advice or more information? Genius of Play has lots of resources on their site, from play ideas to expert advice.
What I love about their site is that they break it down by ages and activities. Not all play activities have the same goals/results so it’s important to mix it up for your kids.
All this information is free and available for everyone, both in Spanish and English so encourage more unsupervised free play in your kids!