Do you remember playing outside when you were little? In past generations, it wasn’t uncommon for a mom to send her kids out the door and tell them to return when it got dark. Young people often had great experiences exploring, climbing trees, and riding bikes. But now it seems that we’re hesitant to let our kids to go outside unsupervised. Why are we so reluctant? A major reason is that social media and technology have made us more aware of all the scary things in the world, and we understandably want to protect our families from such dangers are trafficking, pornography, abuse, etc. But in the name of keeping kids safe, are we sometimes getting paranoid? The truth is that unstructured time to play (with minimal or no adult involvement!) is crucial for children. So while it’s important to be vigilant, we may need to loosen up a bit and just let our kids be kids. Here are some reasons why “free play” is so important:
Play is Critical to Brain Development
There’s a lot of research that shows how play helps children’s brains and allows them to develop physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Additionally, play can be an outlet, a way for kids to relax, which can in turn boost their learning abilities. For example, we’re finding that children do better in math when they participated in free play early on.
Free Play Helps Kids Practice Healthy Social Skills
The social interactions that often occur during play can include sharing, being fair, teamwork, and playing by the rules. What parents don’t want these skills for their kids?! Unstructured play time can give young people experience working together successfully, which is an ability that they will need their entire lives.
Without Play, Children Struggle To Understand The World
Play is how children interact with others; it’s what they’re naturally oriented to do. They need the opportunity to use their imagination, be creative, and break free of a strict routine. Without the freedom to do this, kids can’t learn how to problem solve, and they’ll lack the curiosity they need to navigate their world.
If as a parent, your natural tendency is to intervene, to limit your kids’ free time (out of fear it will interfere with their learning or possibly leave them exposed to danger), please consider all these reasons why play is so crucial. As a mother myself, I fully understand the desire to keep our children safe, but I challenge you to take a step back and let your kids branch out and experience the joy and learning that comes from play.