Remember when a child’s only responsibility was to have fun and just be a kid? Me too! But honestly, it bums me out to see how, through the years, their day-to-day schedules have shifted. Kids’ days were once about going to school and coming home to play. Now it’s not unusual to see 8-year-olds hopping from school, to dance class, to soccer practice, to their piano recital, and then right into bed to start anew tomorrow. I could use a cup of coffee just thinking about that jam-packed schedule.
Sure structured activities have their place, but it’s through unstructured play that children get to use their imaginations and problem solving skills to have fun by their own rules.
Not sure where to find the time for free play? Check out these four tips:
1. Make walks to school an adventure. Leave the house 15 minutes earlier in the morning and let your kids create their own adventure. Instead of a leisurely walk to school or bus stop, turn the journey into an imaginative process. Are you explorers uncovering the New World or astronauts exploring life on a new planet?
2. Turn waiting in line into bite-sized challenges. Next time you’re waiting in the checkout line, encourage your children to think of new challenges that test their bodies and their brains. How many different dance moves can they do in the little space provided? How many yellow foods can they name that they saw in the grocery store today? The only rule is that your children make the rules.
3. Invent through imagination. Keep a box of discarded loose objects such as empty egg cartons, tissue boxes, buttons and sticks, and see what your children can create. Any time spent “sitting around” can be turned into an exercise for the body and mind.
4. Build in time to take advantage of nearby playgrounds. Playgrounds are kingdoms where unstructured play reigns. If you know you’re headed somewhere with a playground nearby (baseball practice, the library, etc.), show up 20 minutes early to take advantage of the fun experiences the playground has to offer.
How do you squeeze in more time for unstructured play?