Let kids be bored: why unstructured time is important for kids

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Every parent wants the best for their child. But sometimes they take it to the extreme and expect their kids to be toppers in every field of life: we hear about parents, whose kids attend different classes every day: ballet, piano lessons, foreign language courses, the list goes on. Some want to give their kids a better start in life and equip them with skills they may need in the future, some want them to do something constructive with their free time, finally some are afraid of their kids getting into trouble because of too much free time. However, recent studies prove that unstructured time  can be beneficial for children at least as much as organized activities.

What is unstructured time?

Unstructured time or unstructured play is the kind of activities that children do in a form of play, usually without the guidance of parents. Unlike structured play, free play is not controlled by teachers, parents etc, it doesn’t have a clear objective or a set of rules. National Association for Sport and Physical Education advises that preschoolers should  engage in some form of unstructured play for at least 60 minutes a day

Why is free play so important for kids?

1. It is crucial for children’s development.

According to Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine from January 2005 free play is essential when it comes to intellectual and cognitive growth, emotional intelligence etc. Free play helps children learn how to collaborate with their peers, strengthening their social skills as a results. It is the time when they get to know how to cooperate, deal with conflicts, learn leadership skills. The benefits of free play were a topic of book written by a Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray. In his book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life he describes how free play influences the development of executive function in kids:

”Free play is nature’s means of teaching children that they are not helpless. In play, away from adults, children really do have control and can practice asserting it. In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals rather than as obedient or rebellious subordinates.”

2. It influences their social success in adulthood. According to a new study conducted at the University of Hildesheim, in Germany, there is a corellation between free play in childhood and social success in later years. The researchers surveyed 134 adults and asked them to recall their play experiences in childhood in details and report developmental status with an impact on social success. Those involved in free play in their childhood were more socially successful in comparison to adults who did not.

“Play is the highest form of research.” (1)

3. It supports creativity. Unstructured play is the time when children come up with the most creative ideas. An empty box can become a vehicle, blankets and chairs turn into a fortress etc. When creating their world during unstructured play, kids are not limited by any rules or expectations: they create, improvise, act. 

4. It helps kids learn about the world. Unstructured time lets kids discover the environment and learn about it. With the help of a free play children experiment, try new things and get to know about the things that surround them.

5. It provides joy! Last but not the least, let’s not forget that unstructured play brings huge happiness for kids.

How can you do to promote free play without imposing your definition of a play?

1. Decrease screen time – the number of kids preferring outdoor activities to screen time is decreasing with each year. Try to decrease the time your child spends using digital media and encourage them to spend time in an active way.

2. Let children play outside – outdoor environment allows children to be in contact with nature, free their imagination and experience things.

3.Stop worrying about your children being bored – many parents try to organize time for their children fearing they might get bored. Children are extremely creative creatures and they manage to come up with ways of spending free time even if they don’t have access to any toys. 

4. Give them some suggestion from time to time. Aha Parenting provides a great concept: creating a Boredom Buster Jar: a jar full of ideas for spending time in a creative way.

5. Stop expecting the best out of your child in every field. Peter Gray states that nowadays kids are pawns in a competitive game in which the adults around them are trying to squeeze the highest possible scores out of them on standardized tests.” Remember that playing is an important part of childhood and never deprive your kids of it.

 

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Magdalena | Appetite For Education

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