Today kids are so scheduled, bouncing from one activity or event to another, that we often forget how important it is to let our kids just play!
I have to admit I am guilty of this at times. I am so busy trying to make sure my kids are engaging in fun experiences and programs that I forget that it’s okay to just let them play without my guidance. In fact, allowing kids to play independently helps them build lifelong skills. It also encourages them to be independent thinkers.
There are so many amazing benefits to open-ended play. Here are just a few:
Allows for imaginary and pretend play: Creating imaginary worlds and role playing is a great way to boost language and social skills. It is also beneficial for enhancing reading and writing skills in school!
Learning through discovery: Kids are innately curious. Allowing them to explore their environment without structure gives them the chance to discover new likes and dislikes.
Teaches problem solving: As kids play, they learn what works and doesn’t work. When what they planned does not work out, they have to use thinking and reasoning skills to create a new solution.
Allows them to be more independent and learn to make choices: We want our children to be independent thinkers that make healthy and productive choices. These decisions start with play!
Encourages social interactions and teamwork with siblings: Letting siblings and peers have free play encourages them to use appropriate social skills. It also fosters greater social awareness and enforces teamwork!
Allows parents some time to get their own things accomplished! When your kids are able to play independently it gives parents more time to get their own chores and responsibilities completed!
There are several things you can do to allow kids to learn through discovery and play while still providing some structure. Here are some ideas on how to encourage open-ended play while also decreasing the chance for overstimulation and confusion:
Give them 3 choices of toys: By giving your kids a few choices, they are still making their own decisions but not overwhelmed by the limitless choices in the playroom or toy box.
Designate one area of the house: Instead of telling them to play wherever they want, choose a specific area such as the pretend kitchen, train table or in their bedroom.
So I hope I have made you feel better about allowing your kids to play by themselves (with supervision of course) while you accomplish your own tasks.
Although open-ended, unstructured play is VERY important for the development of young children, it is still important to make sure you have quality interactions with your children as well! Being a parent is a gift, and if we don’t pay attention, they will be all grown up before we know it!