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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Art of Free Play

In today's world of hectic schedules and over booked activities, many children have lost the pleasure of unstructured free time. There is so much pressure to expose our kids to all possible avenues of interest that we, as parents, often forget to just step back and let our children be children. Unfortunately, the scheduled child loses something that is most important to their life. When we plan each detail of our child's life, we take away their option to find ways to entertain themselves. Unstructured time allows a child the opportunity to use his own imagination to fill the minutes. Without that time, he does not learn to foster that side of himself which will allow him to grow up with the ability to generate ideas and think freely.

Knowing that we need to leave our kids alone in order to have some free time does not mean that we are well trained in the art of doing this. Our kids come to us lamenting that they are bored or that there is nothing to do. It is all too easy to fill that void for them and provide them with something to occupy their time. By doing this, though, we often cause more harm than good. A child needs to know how to find a way to alleviate boredom. Kids need to be able to find new ways to entertain themselves - create new games with existing toys - make the world better and different than what we might expect. They can never learn these most important skills if parents are always stepping in to rescue them from their boredom.

Here are a few ideas for nourishing your child's imagination and creativity.

1) Keep an art box filled with a selection of art supplies. This box should include the usual art content, along with some things that might not be considered "art supplies." Throw in some bottle caps. Add a few twigs from outside. Include a few empty cereal boxes. If you are throwing something away, stop and consider what use it might be before you toss it. Many things that we have no use for can become unique and useful objects for creative endeavors.

2) Let your kids play with their toys in whatever way they choose. Resist the urge to dictate that toys be used in the way they were intended. In my house, a headband and a dog leash becomes a lasso that the girls use to catch their ponies. The large collection of ponies are often used to play school, vet, or other real life games. I have learned to distinguish when the ponies are crying and calling for their mother in order to avoid interrupting the girls during their most important games.

3) Give your kids unusual items to play with from time to time. A box of nuts and bolts can be an interesting and educational toy for young children. A set of padlocks with keys can also provide some unexpected fun. Think outside of the parenting box to find ways that your kids can use their imagination to entertain themselves.

4) Most important - resist the urge to participate. It is difficult for us adults to see the way our children see. When we get involved in whatever they are playing, we often direct the play without really meaning to do so. Let them play without you. That time of alone play is just as important for building independence as it is for exercising their imagination.

2 comments:

Petula said...

My favorite part of free play is me not being involved. LOL!

Great post.

Chew Lee said...

stumbled in your blog... great tips on free play... thanks for sharing this.. and have a great day...