Have you seen those Family Circus cartoons where Bil Keane shows the meandering path of Billy and Dolly having a multitude of adventures throughout the neighborhood or house? It’s kind of like a family Cirque du Soleil with dotted lines showing all the acrobatic twists and turns.
Billy and his siblings know how to play. It seems they spend time doing it every day.
How much time do your children get to play like Billy?
I often hear comments around Scarsdale and Edgemont that indicate our kids are overscheduled. We live in a community where achievement, even among the young, is highly valued. Achievement can mean lessons, tutoring and intense schedules. Focus on achievement is one of the reasons our community turns out so many outstanding young adults.
But how much time do your children get to play like Bil Keane’s characters? If play were a subject, would they get high achievement marks? I’m talking about free play, that unstructured, child-engineered, open-ended kind of time that many of us remember from our own childhoods when Mom or Dad said, “Go outside now, and play.”
Focus on free play is making a resurgence, and with good reason.
You might groan,“What, you mean, I have to worry about scheduling yet another thing for my child so he/she can be successful?! How am I going to fit that in?” But before you say that, I suggest we take a step back and simply take a look at the value of free play.
If free play was a business, their glossy ad might read like this:
“Want to boost your child’s competitive skills?
Looking to help your child succeed academically and make friends?
Want to ensure your child learns respect, cooperation, and creativity?
TRY FREE PLAY, an easy daily regimen that will delight your child.
Guaranteed positive results, unmatched by others.
Play helps kids develop skills they can’t get anywhere else.
Free Play is best. Call today for details.”
Sometimes, advertising claims are exaggerated. These claims aren't. Free play is that important!
Most parents trust the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Here’s what the AAP advises pediatricians to tell parents about the value of free play:
- Pediatricians can promote free play as a healthy, essential part of childhood. They should recommend that all children are afforded ample, unscheduled, independent, non-screen time to be creative, reflect and decompress. They should emphasize that although parents can certainly monitor play for safety, a large proportion of play should be child-driven rather than adult-directed.
- Pediatricians should emphasize the advantages of active play and discourage parents from the overuse of passive entertainment (e.g., television and computer games).
- Pediatricians should emphasize that active, child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies.
- Pediatricians can educate families regarding the protective assets and increased resiliency developed through free play and some unscheduled time.
- Pediatricians can reinforce that parents who share unscheduled spontaneous time with their children and play with their children are being wonderfully supportive, nurturing, and productive.
Did you know that the United Nations Higher Commission for Human Rights has declared play is the right of every child?
This right to play was declared largely as a reaction to child labor practices. Our concern in affluent American neighborhoods such as Scarsdale is not that we are putting our kids to work in the coal mines or sewing factories. We have a different set of issues that make it difficult to ensure that children get enough time for spontaneous child-directed play.
We’re simply too busy doing something else!
As you make summer plans for your family, why not consider scheduling plenty of free time for play? Put it on the calendar to ensure it happens! With nicer weather, bring back the outdoor world of childhood play. Let your child play in a free form, unstructured way on their own, and also with other children. That’s play away from video games, television screens and the Wii.
Did you catch AAP’s focus on how free play helps kids be more resilient? I recently heard a pediatrician say today’s highly scheduled kids are showing up in doctor’s offices with high incidents of anxiety, stress and depression. Play helps protect against those by increasing protective assets that both kids and adults need to do well in life.
So why not play together with your children each week as well? Schedule time to go to a playground together, take a walk in one of our great nature parks or make up a puppet show or silly game. Let your child guide the play and follow along. Laugh together. Spend time together with no agenda. Build cherished memories of love and affection shared through play.
It might take a while to get the hang of this if it’s not your usual pattern. Be patient. Relax and enjoy playing together this summer. Free play comes naturally when you let it unfold.
It will be good for the whole family.