One of the best ways for children to engage in positive physical, mental, and social development is for kids to experience creative free play on a regular basis. It is one of the most important types of imaginative activities for children. Creative free play is expressed when children get to use familiar materials in unique or unusual ways or by engaging in role play and imaginative play. Nothing is more nourishing for a child’s creative spirit and soul than to engage in large chunks of time spontaneously playing. Unfortunately, many parents underestimate the value of creative free play for children. Creative play allows kids to express and cope with their feelings. It also assists children in forming their own unique perspective and individual means of expression. Creative free play is also an excellent opportunity to integrate and include children with disabilities or special needs.
According to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP); “free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact – essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.” The report stresses that our hurried lifestyle and the heavy academic, social, and extracurricular load on children is taking a big toll on families. More balance is needed. The AAP indicates that creative free play protects a child’s emotional development and that a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can often be a leading cause of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for many children. So, what is a healthy parent to do?
Fortunately, there are a number of ways for parents to help playtime be enjoyable, productive, and safe. Here are a few suggestions:
Create a child centered play area at home –
• Keep it child-friendly and clean
• Allow kids to leave constructions up for a while – that way, they can come back and engage in new adventures in the world they created
• Avoid over-stimulation – especially for toddlers and infants
• Store play items in a safe and accessible place
Toys that support creative free play –
• Can be used in a variety of ways
• Appeal to more than one age-group
• Can be used with other toys
• Allow children to create the play
• Will stand the test of time and continue to be of interest even as children develop new skills
• Help kids develop further learning skills and a sense of mastery
Encourage balance in the types of play activities –
• Reduce or eliminate screen time (1 to 2 hours per day max is the recommended AAP limit)
• Encourage outdoor play like running, jumping, climbing, and playing chase
• Cut back on time spent in adult-organized activities – kid directed play is important
• Don’t over-schedule for children – self-directed play should be encouraged
• Make an introduction to new activities such as art, music, building or science – then, allow the children to explore on their own.
Creative free play is fun for kids and families. Dr. Renee has many resources on how to support free play and home and the benefits of free play for children – socially, emotionally, and physically. By letting “kids be kids” and allowing them the time and space to exercise their bodies and their imagination, parents are helping kids learn how to regulate or direct themselves, create joyful memories, and have self-confidence. Supporting creative free play at home enhances neurological development and nurtures strong parent-child bonding. There are many ways to incorporate time for free play into your family schedule. So, go ahead, play with your kids!! It’s good for them and you!!