I recently wrote an article about my perspective on the benefits of organized sports and activities. In that article I touched on my strong belief in a balance between organized and un-organized play. If I was forced to take a side, I would side with free play.
I believe it breeds independence, in addition to social and motor development. But most importantly, it encourages creativity.
When sitting down to write this, I thought to myself, why write such an obvious statement — let kids be kids — shouldn’t this naturally occur in the raising of children?
But sometimes the most obvious things in life get missed and in the age of professional parenting, where we spend our adult lives shuttling and enrolling our kids in as many activities as we can, all with the best intentions, a reminder of the benefits of free play might be necessary.
If I’m wrong and you don’t need my reminder, you can use this as affi rmation of the amazing job you are doing as you mold the next generation.
What credentials do I have for my published thoughts?
Well, I have been a parent for close to sixteen years, and have worked with children of all ages in nearly every job I have ever held since I was old enough to babysit.
I have been a gymnastics coach and gym manager, child developmental therapist, social worker, summer camp leader, educational assistant, substitute teacher, and of course mom, and wicked aunt.
All this is to say I consider myself an avid child observer.
So I have spent a considerable amount of time with children and I have noticed some concerning trends. Kids are not as physically confident as they once were; they are less willing to trust and use their bodies in different forms of movement and play. I have taught physical activity in many forms, and while working in these areas I have noticed an increase in the number of kids that are behind in their gross motor development. Increasing numbers of kids struggle with simple tasks such as jumping on two feet, balancing, somersaulting, and climbing. All areas I feel are learned on the playground naturally through free play.
I was recently driving with my seven-year-old daughter and was explaining why we had made a family rule that she could only watch shows on the weekend and only for small amounts of time. I began to do the classic when-Iwas-a-kid thing. She was very interested when I spoke about not having cable TV and playing with my siblings and neighbourhood kids for hours on end outside and in the forest. She continued to inquire, so I described neighbourhood baseball and pick-up hockey, as well as frog hunting and acorn wars in the trees. She couldn’t believe that I would just disappear into the woods with friends or on my own for hours without a parent present. I told her they are my fondest memories and I am so grateful for my childhood.
Our comfort zones in society have changed, no longer are our kids sent outside to play in residential neighbourhoods, but rather just to play in our yard. All the playgrounds are being equipped with rubber or cork landings. Gone are the days that kids could jump off the “big toy” into gravel, get scraped up, and learn from this experience with the laws of gravity how to improve their jump and land safely.
We are trying so hard to protect our children that we may have missed out on the importance of allowing them to learn how to protect themselves. In order to learn how to jump and fall safely we have to let them play and test their limits on their own. Children crave structure and structured play, and sports is incredibly important in teaching skills such as listening, working as a team, following instruction, and developing skills; but free play is an opportunity to test your environment, your body, your confidence, and learn cause and effect. Wow jumping off the swing at the top hurt. but if I tucked and rolled it might have felt better, then again maybe it wouldn’t have. Maybe I’ll test this out a bit.
I try not to hover over my kids; I’m okay with them falling occasionally, because I know they will figure it out. I want them to learn the limits of the body, and they must test it to figure it out. I believe confidence in your physical ability and knowing your body breeds confidence in all areas.