Remember when you were young and how you made up games and drama skits in your head and learnt something new through the process? You probably didn’t know back then but you were engaging in unstructured play.
Unstructured play, also known as free play, is when children are left to play and learn on their own. However, these days, most parents tell their children what to do next instead of asking them what they want to do, be it the types of classes they want to enrol in and what games they should play, resulting in a serious decline of unstructured play.
Today’s children are entertained all the time. From regular enrichment lessons to abundance of games and videos online to occupy all of a child’s free time. Besides, free play is often not seen as a priority by most parents.
Why Kids Need Free Play?
Why do parents see the need to have structure for everything their child does? It all comes down to being afraid of your child deviating from the norm, shares Jacqui Probert, psychotherapist from MySpace Psychotherapy Services.
“We are very concerned about doing the right thing for our children. It is imperative that the child is given the best and we think that by prescribing what we think the child needs will make him turn out well. Even at home when children are on their own, many parents dictate how they should play,” she says.
Jacqui further adds that it seems some parents may have limited understanding of how the brain grows and actually processes information, explaining why they’re engrossed in wanting their children to be the best in this competitive society.
What Happens When There’s A Lack Of Free Play?
It’s true – play is serious business and can affect your child negatively if omitted. Apart from stemming creativity, Jacqui explains that what parents don’t realise is that few children will tolerate being dominated for long periods of time and when they start to have their own opinions, parents then accuse them of being “rebellious” simply because they need their own space.
The effect of not having unstructured play does not stop at hindering creativity and the learning process. The experts share that the constant going from one organised activity to another with no downtime in between to process the information can lead to the child feeling anxious and overwhelmed and to more serious issues such as the development of ADHD type.
Striking A Balance.
On a psychological level, child-led play enables children to learn that their ideas are valuable and they can make good things happen which in turn increases their self-esteem, says Jacqui.
Parents can and should be involved as their child plays but should refrain from interrupting their children. “When children build something or tell a story, parents tend to jump in too quickly to tell them right and wrong. However, we can allow them to build or tell their stories without interfering by asking about it, emoting and exploring with them.
It is so important to get enthusiastic about your child’s play adventures because you matter so much to them. Ask them to share and get excited about their experiences. This will elicit more of their imagination, enabling you to join in their capacity building and celebrate the joy of their growth. Play with purpose has the strength to set kids up with lifelong skills such as creative-thinking, problem-solving and the ability to take initiative when they feel “stuck”.
So, don’t worry. Just leave them to play on their own. Meanwhile, you can catch up on housework or Netflix.
This story has been edited by Sylvia Ong.