Emerging evidence shows that ‘letting kids be kids’, i.e. letting them play, is beneficial to their overall development.
UNSTRUCTURED play can be defined as a category of play in which children engage in an open-ended session that does not involve any strategy or reasoning. It is often referred to as just “letting kids be kids”, and is free of any leadership or direction given by a parent, teacher, caregiver or older sibling.
A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that unstructured play, or playtime with no specific structure or learning objective, is essential for children to achieve important social, emotional and cognitive development milestones.
It also enables children to better manage stress and become resilient to stressful events.
While parental supervision is imperative, sessions of unstructured play are initiated and directed by a child, and is not part of an organised activity.
Such sessions often lead to activities that are fun, creative and improvised.
This does not mean that your child has to play alone. He can enjoy his playtime with his peers, siblings, and even his parents.
The main intention here is to allow your child the freedom and control to discover more about himself and his surroundings without any pressure or fear of failure.
Engaging in unstructured play will lead to an abundance of opportunities that will stimulate your child’s decision-making, problem-solving and creative-thinking skills.
The absence of structure encourages your child to explore the various possibilities and different ways he can play. Interacting with his playmates or adults also help hone his interpersonal and communication skills.
Playtime under siege
Increasingly, unstructured playtime is becoming scarce in modern life. One reason may be that more parents are working, and they are working for longer hours. This results in a need for children to spend more and more time in nurseries, and in safe and structured programmes.
According to the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (AAP), free-play (unstructured play) time for children dropped about 25% between 1981 and 1997. While playtime facilitates your child’s social and emotional development, a loss of free time, in combination with a hectic lifestyle, can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression in children, the AAP reports.
As parents, it is your role to ensure your child’s happiness and holistic development by providing him with the care that he needs.
The AAP reports that the most valuable and useful traits to prepare children for future success comes not from academic or extracurricular commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love and guidance.
Getting involved in your children’s playtime is an effective way to bond with them. You may consider how best to incorporate elements of play into your child’s daily routine (without setting a goal or directions), to create an optimal learning environment for his future.
To help children get the most out of unstructured playtime, prepare plenty of materials or age-appropriate toys, a big enough space, and plenty of time. You can even use simple household items to encourage a child to engage in unstructured play.
Some simple items you can incorporate for your child’s unstructured play include:
·Building blocks: Building a free-form city with colourful blocks of different shapes and sizes helps stimulate your child’s creativity and fine-motor skills.
·Cardboard boxes: The humble cardboard is filled with possibilities that adults don’t always see. Kids can alter it, cut out windows or paint it, depending on what they use it for. If they can fit in it, it can even become a house, a car or a spaceship.
·Sidewalk chalk: From drawing farm animals to making a colourful rainbow tree, sidewalk chalks are great for exploring your child’s artistic side and making a mess!
·Marbles: For older children (three and above), shooting marbles can help your child learn about cause-and-effect and encourage his natural curiosity about the world. Extend this activity by letting your child experiment with different angles to achieve different speeds and effects.
Some fun games your child can play:
·Hide-and-seek: Hide-and-seek allows your child the opportunity to be independent. While this game can be played indoors, playing outdoors allows your child to fully utilise his physical freedom. However, these days, for safety reasons, playing indoors or within a gated compound may be better options.
·A game of tag: Tag is a playground game that involves one or more players chasing other players in an attempt to “tag” or touch them, usually with their hand. There are many variations, and most forms have no teams, scores or equipment.
·Tarik upih (sledding): This Malaysian version of “sledding” usually involves two to three players using an upih (a palm tree frond). One will be designated as the “puller”, and up to two “riders” get to sit on the upih for a ride. Children can take turns being the “puller” and the “rider”.
·Water balloon cannons: A game of water balloon cannons makes for a fun and sensory experience for your child. Running away from these water “cannons” also gives your child a healthy workout.
Spending time with your child in a fun session of games helps you gain insight into any problem areas in their development or behavioural patterns that may require extra guidance or attention.
So don’t feel guilty about having to skip lunch with your friends to play with your kids. It is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to help them develop and grow.
Combining playtime and exercise
As any parent will tell you, kids have a lot of energy. You can harness that energy by incorporating physical activity into unstructured playtime.
Exercise can bring about tremendous physical and psychological benefits for your child. By incorporating exercise into your child’s playtime, you also reassert the importance of physical activity in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
It is recommended that they get about 60 minutes of exercise, at least five times in a week, but preferably daily.
Physical activities such as running and jumping rope help bone growth. A game of badminton improves dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Meanwhile, riding a bicycle or tricycle helps improve your child’s balance and control.
Active children have stronger muscles, and healthier lungs and hearts. Keeping active also helps combat overweight and obesity problems in children.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important, because the extra pounds often start children on the path towards health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol later on in life.
Playtime that emphasises physical activity also encourages parents and caregivers to get off the couch and lead an active lifestyle together.
> This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme. For further information, please visit www.mypositiveparenting.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.