Free play has been proven to be beneficial to children’s development and learning. It can also be incredibly crucial to their health, as shown in a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania. To help bring unstructured play back into the home, use this post as a guide for encouraging free play with your kids.
Here are a few ways to encourage free play for better development:
- Make a Dedicated Space for Play. To show yourself, your kids and others just how serious you are about encouraging free play, dedicate a space in your home for it. This space should be devoted to creating messes and should be a zone that encourages the imagination to take hold.
- Go Outside. Children today spend 50 percent less time playing outside than in the ‘70s. The fresh air opens possibilities for coming up with creative ways to play. Consider putting together a sandbox in the yard, or a box full of toys that will help them play well outside. This could include items like tarps, shovels and traffic cones. Regardless of what toys are given, being outside can do wonders for awakening creativity.
- Try Not to Intervene. This is such a hard one for parents to learn, but sometimes, you’ve just got to let their imagination take hold of them – without any interruptions from you. If, for example, you see your son or daughter attempting to build a bridge out of blocks but know that it may not work, an overwhelming desire may come over you to fix it or show them a better way. Don’t. Let them learn how to make it better by trying a few things first.
- Make Open-Ended Toys Available. “He had more fun with the box than what was inside it.” It’s a common phrase and one that gives a real clue into the power of free play. Refrigerator box spaceships and blanket forts: These are the results of imaginative play. The only tools needed are those already on-hand and in the house. The suggestion, then, is to bring toys and items into your home that encourage imagination and creativity. This would include things like blocks, balls, boxes and dolls.
- Use Electronics Sparingly. Electronic screens are introduced at a very early age, with the youngest generations experiencing a large volume of screen time. It’s common to see many parents handing over their electronic devices to calm kids in restaurants, meaning those children are using electronics to cope with a very real, everyday situation. What does this teach them in the way of interacting and communicating as an adult? Limit screen time to the suggested two hours or less each day and see a transformation take hold of your young charge.
- Limit the Number of Toys. Think about going to a restaurant. Unless you’re the type to order the same thing at every meal, how long does it take you to decide what to order? How many times do you second-guess yourself when you think you’ve made your decision? It’s the same with your kids and toys. When you’re being offered so many choices, you get overstimulated and can’t make a decision you’re comfortable sticking to. By limiting the number of items available – both on the menu and in the toy selection – you’re guiding your child in the decision-making process, allowing him or her to fully experience what’s available.
- Allow Boredom to Happen. If you’ve ever watched a cartoon from 50 years ago and then watched one from today, the difference in the pace may catch your eye. The amount of activity occurring in the latter is a direct indication of the attention span to which companies are trying to cater. There’s no time for boredom. How do you encourage free play when kids are used to being bombarded with messages, activities and technology? Make time for boredom. Boredom forces creativity and allows children the freedom to entertain themselves.
- Declutter Your Schedule. Free play takes time. With so many parents running around from structured activity to structured activity, there’s little time left for encouraging kids to learn and develop by simply playing. If you’re serious about incorporating free play into your family, start crossing things of everyone’s to-do list. Unstructured, free play is incredibly beneficial to children. Help your kids get a head start in problem- solving and creativity by bringing it into your own home.
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About the Author: Sarah Landrum