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The following tips are excepted from an article by Avril Swan, MD and expanded by Parent Resources.
Children today have more opportunities than ever for all sorts of wonderful experiences. Sports, dance, skating, gymnastics, yoga, horse-back riding, music lessons and camps with every theme imaginable! Basically, any class or leisure activity an adult can enjoy, there is a pint-sized version for our budding renaissance men and women. Some of these options actually incorporate unstructured play as part of their curriculum–which is a great asset to look for. But if you think your child may be too overbooked with structured activities and you are looking for ways to increase unstructured playtime, here’s how you can do it:
- Consider the number of extra-curricular activities. There is no magic right or wrong number of extras, but if you or your child aren’t taking joy in the activities or if the activities are eating all of your free time, drop one or some. Look for options that allow your child to try an activity before committing. Many dance studios for example hold open houses or bring a friend day, as a way to spur enrollment, but it’s a great opportunity to test-drive a new activity to see if it’s a good match for your child before making a bigger commitment.
- Allow A Change of Heart. Because the activities we sign our children up for can be expensive or require special equipment up-front, we sometimes ask our children to stick to extremely high standards when it comes to changing their minds. If your child tries something and really, really doesn’t enjoy it, do you let them quit or not? Ask your child why he/she wants to stop the activity. Be sure to carefully listen, you just might be surprised how the answers can help you to make the best decision.
- Change your mind set. Successful adults are programmed to be productive. Children are not small adults. Their play is their work and is their productive activity. There’s a lot more going on in their brains than may be visible at first glance.
- Let your child go a little outside your comfort zone. Consider that a child taking calculated risks in natural environments may learn and improve their judgment. There is no teacher greater than experience. Learning how to climb a rock or a tree now might decrease hazardous behavior later in life by teaching limits. Learning to settle squabbles on their own while playing with friends arms children with problem-solving skills and empathy to use for the rest of their lives.
- Practice letting your child be bored. Children don’t need to have every moment scheduled, in fact, some of the best creativity comes from being bored. If boredom does set in, rather than jumping to offer ideas, prompt your child with questions to help him discover ideas on his own, which will eventually become a skill he acquires and uses on his own. Better yet, help your child create a boredom box filled with their boredom buster ideas (no screen time ideas like TV or video games and such). Write each idea on a slip of paper and place it in the box–decorate it too if you like. Be sure the boredom box is a container your child can access by himself/herself.
- Consider neighborhood solutions. If your neighborhood is less then ideal for outside play safety, look for other places that are. Unstructured play at a park is a great option. For bike-riding, walks, or nature scavenger hunts, you may be able to take a short drive and find a more walk-able neighborhood that’s close to your own to “adopt” for the day!
- Allay your fears by getting organized. There’s no need for you to take everything on by yourself. Groups of parents can get together and take turns watching while kids play on the block.