The importance of free play has been lost under the pressure to reach high academic success. But what is the cost to a child’s cognitive, physical and social well-being when every minute is structured and planned for?
Having adult-led play only diminishes a child’s ability to work things out for themselves. Important lessons are missed and questions about self and life are left unanswered.
Garry Landreth says that play is the language of children and through my counselling trainings and experiences I have come to realise just how true this is. A child of five years old does not have the verbal capacity to explain themselves but they can show you through their play. Children who are given the opportunity to free-play work out what they like or not, who they want to be, make sense of their world, learn to manage strong emotions, find out how they impact the world around them, how to make or lose friends.
Free play has become less apparent in schools and opportunities for it become less and less available at a younger and younger age. Structured play is ‘safer’ physically but for good emotional and cognitive growth this is not such a healthy choice. Of course fighting and disagreements happen when children are left to play freely but how then do they learn to resolve conflict for themselves if not left (without harming each other) to figure out ‘the rules’. A child who is instructed on every aspect of play is often a child who is unable to function as an adult without someone to be there to instruct them. Thinking is a playful task as well as an academic one, in fact to be academic one often has to have a good memory in order to remember and regurgitate the thoughts and writings of others, not much room for play there! Intelligence, in my experience, is the ability to think about others thoughts, consider different options, imagine various outcomes and form opinions, values and make decisions for ourselves. Intelligence is created through the work of play and sharing through relationships and connection with others. We play with ideas when we think and thinking starts with childhood free play!
Playing together with your child enables them to think, work things out, experience the joy of being autonomous and making decisions, learn that what they have to say is important to you….you will be surprised at how insightful and wise your child is because their thinking has not been coloured by the media and responsibilities the way ours, as adults, has been.
Let’s give play the priority in our lives that it deserves!