I was chatting to a friend recently and saying next term we will start my son in yet another afternoon activity. However, most afternoons he already has something on. As a parent, you want to do the best for your kids and so you end up enrolling them in lots of extra-curricular activities. However, is it actually the way to go?
Maybe if you want your children to be more successful, give them more time for unstructured play. That’s the exact conclusion reached by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and many other experts. AAP recommends that kids get at least an hour a day to play outside, along with regular breaks throughout the day.
“Unstructured play supports a child’s natural curiosity about the world around them and allows them to experiment and explore on their own terms, making it a richer, more enjoyable, learning experience.”
So we have AAP and an expert’s opinion and that made me do a little digging on the benefits. This is what I found as the benefits of free time and strategies any parent can use to encourage their kids to play more.
Benefits of Unstructured Play
- Stimulate creativity. Put your child’s imagination to work. Innovative thinking will help your kids excel in their future careers and develop enriching hobbies. Creating storylines for tea parties could help them break into advertising.
- Teach conflict resolution. A game of cops and robbers can show kids how to take turns and negotiate. They ponder ethical decisions and explore how to treat people fairly.
- Play by the rules. Games also demonstrate the way rules and guidelines create order. Children will be better prepared for school and the workplace as they come to understand the consequences of their actions and rewards for good behaviour.
- Manage stress. Intensive study camps and nonstop playdates can be too much of a good thing. Kids need a break from external pressures, just like adults do.
- Strengthen motor skills. It may be difficult to explain fine motor skills to a toddler. On the other hand, they’ll love sorting pebbles and shaping cookie dough.
- Fight obesity. Sedentary lifestyles can start young. Shooting hoops or roller skating after school burns calories. Best of all, those healthy exercise habits will stick with your children as they get older.
- Develop self-awareness. Childhood is a time to create a sense of identity and figure out what we like and dislike. Taking charge of their free time helps kids to appreciate themselves and become more resilient.
- Enhance problem-solving. Building a fort from scratch can bring out the engineer in your child.
Strategies to Provide Your Kids with More Unstructured Playtime
- Head outdoors. Spending time outside creates more opportunities to move. My son is a huge fan of his bicycle.
- Redecorate your child’s room. Design your child’s bedroom to incorporate multiple play areas. You might want to arrange a table and chairs for crafts and reading. Set up an easel for sketching. Paint a hopscotch diagram on the floor. (Although my son doesn’t have this kind of space in his room. Instead, we have used the sitting room and the garden.)
- Choose simple toys. Cardboard boxes and wooden blocks require your children to rely on their own resources rather than following the directions that come with a kit. Put the money you save into something for their later life.
- Encourage experimentation. Expose your children to a wide variety of activities. They’ll be in a better position to discover their true passions if they try out singing, dancing, and art rather than specializing too soon.
- Set limits on screen time. Paediatricians recommend one hour or less a day of TV and computer time. Set a curfew on electronics and monitor your child’s activities online.
- Seek balance. Academics, sports clubs, and free play are all valuable. Consider your child’s unique needs and comfort level.
I guess the conclusion is team sports and piano lessons have their place, but the activities that your children invent for themselves have a dramatic and unique impact on their social, emotional, and cognitive development. Essentially help your kids to reach their full potential and enjoy life more. Carve out plenty of time for free play and save a few Pula’s along the way. I guess my son isn’t starting that other activity next term after all.