In the last week of school, I was inundated with brochures and pamphlets of summer camp, sports training, swimming classes, art classes, speech and drama classes – you name it and I was holding a pamphlet of that class. My heart had multiple blips when I saw the cost of these ‘skill and character developing’ classes.
There was passionate discussion among parents on how to keep the child engaged during the summer vacation. I had decided earlier on that this summer vacation would be a true vacation for both my son and me – no structured activities; he can do what he wants.
I did not enrol him into any of these jamborees and was considering giving him a break from the art activities we usually do. I just wanted him to have his space and discover things on his own without supervision and pressure of completing an activity.
Why do we have to ensure that every hour is filled with a ‘meaningful’ activity and is accounted for?
The other moms almost instantly accused me of not exposing my child to various hobbies/activities, putting a break on his speeding intellect, stunting his development and what not. But I stood my ground, which set me thinking why are we so averse to the concept of free unstructured play time? Why do we have to ensure that every hour is filled with a ‘meaningful’ activity and is accounted for?
In our hurry to expose our children to various hobbies/skills lest they miss the bus, we underplay the importance of unstructured free play in a child’s life. Yes the drawing classes, football classes, phonics are all important for the gross motor, social, cognitive and emotional development, but free play is probably where the start point is. It is the single space where he/she is in charge and gets to decide. He gets to steer his action based on what he feels is right at that point of time, which is the very essence of critical thinking and decision making ability.
Here are some of the benefits of free play!
1) Creativity: The ability to conjure up new games, imaginary characters, stories and things to play with is probably the best benefit of free play. When there is no adult supervision, no one to correct or point out mistakes, the possibilities are limitless. The child accepts failure with grace and no tantrums.
2) Decision making: Free play provides so many opportunities for the child to make choices and decide on what he thinks is best for that situation. He/She takes responsibility for the decision taken (in a subtle way), something that will go a long way in his/her adult life.
3) Independence: With decision making comes independence and the ability to find ways to engage themselves. They become less dependent on adults to entertain them
4) Conflict resolution: If free play is in a group the child learns to resolve conflict, wait for turns and share without an adult having to scream the rules and dole out time outs.
Free play allows the child to interact with his natural surroundings at his own pace
5) Appreciation of nature: Free play allows the child to interact with his natural surroundings at his own pace, thus learning much more than when it is adult dictated and adult managed.
So the next time you chide your child for aimless wandering in the house/yard or vacantly staring outside the window, remember you might be snipping the information flow, retarding his ability to process information and unknowingly putting blinders to the way he sees the world.
Give him/her that much deserved down time. You never know, they might just have a eureka moment during their ‘whiling away time’!