As we all know, play is crucial in a child's development, especially free play, i.e. unsupervised play where your child is free to invent, create and explore. Such free play is important for a child's development physically, intellectually, cognitively, socially and emotionally, as well as for health and fitness.
Unstructured play encourages children to think outside the square, and to try new things that they've never attempted before. Older children will learn to take turns, share, instruct or provide instructions, and get along with other children when playing together, which is the foundation of social skills.
Can you remember when you were by yourself or playing with your friends, where you set the rules, making them up as you went along? Do you remember the freedom to invent, the conversations that flowed, and the agreements and disagreements with your friends?
There is no doubt that we all know that play is important for children's development; however, with the increase of the following factors, there is a decrease in free play and play ground play for the younger generations.
I am talking through personal experience as well; you see, my own childhood was filled with school work BUT never lacked free and unstructured play. Every evening the neighbourhood children would meet up at the playground just before dinner; we would have at least an hour of play, laughter and fun (sometimes not so fun) interactions with our friends. Most of the time, my grandparents or the elderly community would be watching from a far, making sure we did not disrupt the neighbourhood or injure ourselves during play.
However, as I have noticed, free and unstructured play is less compared to many years ago; what could be the reason?
- There are more families with both parents (or single parent) working full time. The children are spending most of their time in childcare or after school care, and by the time they arrive home, it will be time to cook, bath the children etc., and the children will be tired… thus a lack of time for free play at home.
- There are fewer multigenerational families where the grandparents will be able to supervise the play around the home.
- Most families are short of time and energy. There are many after school activities to fulfill, such as after school sports or other curriculum events.
- With school entrance becoming more selective, parents are paying more attention to academic fluency rather than play.
- There are some fundamental trends in some Asian countries where academic proficiency, such as reading, maths and science, outweighs creativity proficiency; thus parents tend to enroll their children into coaching schools during their spare/play time.
- The safety issues in most communities discourage parents to allow their children to venture outside the safety of their home to play with the neighbourhood children.
- Also with modern technology, like the electronic games and television, children tend to spend less time exploring other forms of entertainment, like free play.
I would love to hear your view about how does our modern life style challenge unstructured play for children.
Have a fun and connected day with your children.