In today’s world, kids have less free play time than ever. Recess time is being reduced at many schools, and physical education classes are not always available. Kids are in a variety of adult directed activities after school such as music, gymnastics, art, karate, soccer, tutoring, all of which teach valuable skills that they will carry with them for a lifetime. Physical fitness, being part of a team, learning the rules of the game, developing artistic talent, are just some of the important life lessons children gain from these activities.
So why play? It is important to distinguish between adult directed and adult supervised activities. When children engage in adult supervised play, they learn to be creative. Who comes up with rules? They do. They learn cooperation. What happens when there is disagreement about how to play? They work it out. They learn resilience. What happens when things don’t work out as planned? They figure out what happened, what needs to be changed, and try a new way. They learn independence. All of this leads to genuine self esteem which stems from the realization that they truly are able to read a situation and adjust. These are invaluable skills which they will have throughout their lives.
So as parents, our challenge is to balance both, along with the thousand other things we need to do each day. Some ways to begin are:
- Turn off the electronic devices. I know, I know, this is not easy! Try it for a few minutes at a time, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Give yourself permission to work up to longer periods.
- Be present and available, physically and mentally.
- Be open to what your child wants to do. This may be playing Connect 4 together, building a tower of blocks and knocking it down, going to the park, the activity itself does not matter as much as being open to the experience.
- When in doubt, ask your child “what now?” They will know.
- Let go of playing by the rules if your child is very young. It’s more important to enjoy the time together than to teach them the rules of Don’t Break the Ice.
- Be aware of the tendency to lapse into teaching.
- Allow for “failure”. If things don’t work out as initially planned, it is a perfect opportunity to learn.
Most of all, give yourselves credit for being brave enough to let go!