Want to support your little one’s physical, social, and cognitive development? Ditch the formal activities for now. Give your child freedom to use his imagination and the room he needs to grow.
We know you’re busy. You have a job and family to manage, a house to stock with food, bills to pay, and appointments to stay on top of. For many well-meaning parents, there’s not much time in the day for anything else.
Well, it might surprise you to learn that making moments for fun and play—actively setting aside time for your little one to develop new skills and engage with others in a safe, pressure-free environment—is one of the best things you can do for your child.
Why Free Play is Important
Increasingly, a number of forward-thinking child advocates agree that free play is vital. They say the time kids spend engaged in fun outdoor activities, playground exploration, and learning to get along with others, is as important for brain development as are circle time and other indoor endeavors.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children considers play so important that it is a key factor in the accreditation process for kids’ programs.
A New York City public elementary school recently adopted a no homework policy for children in pre-K through 5th grade. The goal: To give youngsters a lot more time to play, read, and spend with family.
But why should parents slot in more unstructured fun and loosely organized activities for their own little cuties?
Play lets kids experiment. It also teaches kids to manage setbacks in a safe, okay-to-experiment environment. If a block tower collapses, a child can simply rebuild it—no one’s judging him or labeling the project a failure. Play gives kids a chance to solve problems and cope with frustrations.
Play teaches kids the importance of collaboration and the skills they need for teamwork. Increasingly in our group-oriented society, kids need to work and cooperate with others, at school, on a team, and later out in the world and in business. Through play kids learn the rules of give and take, how to share, and how to enter and exit social situations. The connections kids make via spontaneous, youth-driven play are very different from the interactions they experience in formal play such as on the soccer field, where their coaches dictate all the rules and tell them what to do.
Free play is inventive, dramatic, manipulative, and experimental. There are numerous low-key and low-cost activities that promote free play as well as physical and cognitive development. Encourage your kids to dress-up, pretend, manipulate small objects, and have a blast with boxes, blankets, magnets, globes, yo-yos, paper clips and rubber bands. Try activities that involve the use of buttons, coins, beads, strings, tape, scissors, glue, felt, and other fabrics to enhance motor skills and inspire imagination. Note: some of these items are potential choking hazards for children under 4 so close supervision is advised.