Nowadays, for many parents, unstructured or “free” play time may sound like a waste of time. But according to research, free play is actually essential for all aspects of children’s development. This is the way human beings learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers and practice empathy and resilience. Moreover, free play is the foundation for creativity and innovation and is fundamental to learning.
All young mammals play because it is how they learn about and experience the world around them. Humans are no different – in fact, our childhood is longer than other mammals, and we play for an extended period of time.
What is play? Contrary to popular belief, play is not just an activity, but rather a mindset. Experts have found that play has many forms, such as supervised play activities organized for children, or onscreen play like video games. Although both of these types of play have value, they don’t offer all the benefits that REAL play does.
Children develop and thrive the most when they engage in what is known as “REAL play”. REAL play is defined by two main characteristics: being self-controlled and self-directed. This means that there is no adult supervision or direction involved. Rather, it is an active multisensory activity that connects children to the world around them and to the inner world of ideas and imagination. Examples of REAL play include activities such as playing with sand, climbing trees, role-playing, hide-and-seek, and painting.
Just as it’s important for children to have a balanced diet of nutrients for their growth and development, it’s also essential that they have a “balanced play diet”. This means that while all forms of play are beneficial, real play should be the primary focus. Real play is essential for children as it helps them to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Here’s a quick and easy hack for all the parents out there who want to ensure their child’s healthy development – let them PLAY. That’s right, according to science, one of the best things parents can do for their children is to let them play as much as possible. We know it’s hard to step back sometimes and let them fend for themselves, but it’s so important for their growth.
Always consider your child’s age and the amount of time available when making decisions about how much freedom to allow them, of course. And take into account your home and neighborhood environment too.
With all that being said, maybe a good place to start is by asking yourself where you could allow your child more freedom to play? Then, next time we can talk about ways you can bring more play into both your and your child’s life!