Kids have become so overscheduled that they are slowly running out of time to just be kids. School and homework take up a great deal of their time. Then all the extras are added on . . . music lessons, sports teams, dance classes, and academic clubs consume hours of their day and week. At the end of the day, do your kids have any time to just play with their friends in the neighborhood or do other things they want?
If not, it may be time to think about dialing back their schedule to add in some free play time.
Why is it so important to let kids enjoy free play time?
Well, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to being important to healthy brain development, the benefits of free play include:
- encouraging kids to interact with the world around them
- allowing kids to use their creative intuition and develop their imagination
- teaching kids to work together, so they learn to share and resolve conflicts as a group
- helping kids get over their insecurities and build their confidence
- helping kids practice decision-making and problem-solving skills
It is important to note that this research is guided towards unstructured, child-driven play. It is not the kind of play that is structured and controlled by adults and it doesn’t include passive play, like sitting in front of a video game, computer, or TV.
Even though free play isn’t controlled by adults, that doesn’t mean it should be unsupervised play, especially if they are playing outside.
True free play includes any kind of unstructured activity that encourages your child to use their imagination and creativity, such as playing with dolls or building with blocks. It does not include playing with most electronics like video games.
The neighborhood kids playing together in the backyard would be a good example of unstructured free play. However, playing soccer on a team with a coach would be more structured play time. Any type of active free play is a good way to help your kids get their physical activity requirements each day.
If you are always running from one activity to another and your kids are overscheduled, it will eventually cause them stress and anxiety. Consider cutting back a little on structured activities and adding in some free play. It will help them release tension and stress, making them more able to focus when they need to.