Playtime is one of the most enjoyable times for children.
But did you know that free playtime also helps children in their physical and social development?
Just as you try to give the best nutrition and the best education to your child, don’t let playtime take a backseat.
In today’s blog, we discuss how playtime is a wonderful way to let children thrive and also a way to connect with them.
Do you mindfully include playtime as part of your parenting journey? If not, you should definitely try. It’s never too late to start!
What is free play?
Freely chosen play is when a child decides and controls their play following their own instincts, imagination, and interests.
They play without being led by adults.
There’s no right or wrong way to play. Freely chosen play improves children’s health, well-being, and development.
By engaging in play, children learn about the world and themselves, and they develop important life skills including confidence, self-esteem, resilience, social skills, independence, curiosity, and the ability to cope with challenges.
All of these benefits contribute to the overall healthy development of children and young people. We see in detail below how physical, social, and mental development are aided by free play.
Physical activities like running, skipping, and biking help children build good physical fitness, agility, stamina, coordination, and balance. Even though as adults we might not be able to see the point of just jumping around the way kids do, these types of play can improve children's overall physical health and well-being.
They provide an important opportunity for children to develop physical skills that will help them stay active and healthy throughout their lives.
Playing can help children develop their social skills by providing opportunities to interact with others, listen, pay attention, and share their experiences.
When your child plays, they are exploring their feelings, developing self-discipline, learning how to express themselves, and working through their emotions.
By engaging in social play, children can learn how to build relationships, communicate effectively, and navigate social situations. All these are incredible life skills to have and it’s great that your child can learn them through play.
Free play also gives children the opportunity to explore and helps with learning.
When your child is filling pots of different sizes with water or creating a pile of mud in the garden or digging the sand on a beach, they are learning.
Young children learn a lot through freely chosen play. It really sets the stage for formal education and helps them learn faster when at school.
At what age should free play be introduced?
Free play is crucial for children to develop creativity and use their imagination.
You can encourage young children, including toddlers and preschoolers, to engage in free play regularly, of course, with appropriate supervision. Even babies as young as 6 months can benefit from supervised free play.
How can parents encourage play?
Play is a great way for parents to fully connect with their children and have fun together.
While it is important to support and participate in their child's play activities, we should also focus on allowing children the freedom and choice to play on their own terms.
When we let our children play, we should try to give children the time and space to explore at their own pace.
While free play is all about letting your child be independent, here are some tips to support and encourage free play for your child.
1. Give them a safe environment for free play.
Ensure that your child has a safe space to play in.
Free play allows children to explore and do things independently, which can help them build confidence and independence.
To ensure that your child is playing safely, create a hazard-free play area and check in on them regularly during playtime.
2. Take cues from your child.
Involve your child in the decision-making process by asking, "What do you want to do today?"
Based on their response, help create an environment where they can pursue their interests.
For example, if they want to build a house, provide them with the building blocks or other materials and give them a safe space to work.
You don’t need to have everything.
Just consider the resources that your child will need and look for available items in your home.
Don't be afraid to think outside the box!
So if your child wants to do a puzzle but you don't have one at home, use a picture or calendar and cut it into pieces for them to assemble as an alternative.
3. Support them when needed.
When your child encounters a challenge, you can guide them toward a solution by asking, "What do you want to do? How can we solve this problem?"
Remember that the goal is to provide support and prompts, rather than doing everything for the child.
You can also give some clues or support to where the children can think for themselves and do things for themselves.
4. Use playtime to bond with your child.
Even when children are playing independently, parents can still be involved.
If your child wants to play with you while you are busy, try suggesting activities that they can do on their own.
When they are finished, you can review their work together.
With slightly older kids, you can ask them to write a story and then read it. This approach can help engage children in independent play and encourage them to try new activities.
Children are constantly learning.
For example, when a child recites a nursery rhyme, they are practicing language development skills. Throwing and catching a ball helps children develop gross motor and hand-eye coordination skills.
As mothers, we all take the development of our children very seriously. While social interaction with peers is important for children, there are also benefits to playing independently.
Let your child engage in free, unstructured play, and let them bloom!
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