Many of you have heard me talk about how I parent better outside the house, and let me assure you – it’s true! While logistics can be challenging- remembering to bring snacks for kids of 3 different ages, my pump, diapers, wipes, travel toilets, waters, milk, my wallet, etc…. I really do enjoy being out and about with my little humans!
However, not every adventure has to be at a museum, conservatory, amusement park, or vacation — there’s lots of fun to be had through unstructured play in parks, playgrounds, on nature walks, or even just running through an open field! And rest assured, we get all of those in too!
Children need to be able to physically release all their pent up energy. It’s why schools have recess (although arguably not nearly enough). Many studies have been conducted on this and the vast majority deliver the same findings — after intense, inactive classroom periods. children need a way to let off steam. Simply allowing children to be children – having an opportunity to play, yell, run, etc… things that are generally discouraged during structured activities… is a healthy expression of extra energy.
One of the obvious benefits of play is exercise. Our little people’s bodies crave physical movement; it’s one of many reasons why I love the freedom within a Montessori school environment. Try to get your child to sit through an hour of church or a class period at school without having had an outlet to literally get the fidget out of them. It’s hard! It’s one of the many reasons that we get to church an hour early every week- we let the kids run around and play a bit before asking them to sit through the service or their Sunday school. Active play of any kind- whether climbing, biking, running, swimming, or any other number of activities- helps muscle strength, coordination, balance, the development of self-confidence, and so much more!
Another great benefit of play is socialization. Children learn to interact with their peers, test their boundaries and limits, and generally socialize with others through play. They learn about taking turns, patience, and how to treat other people through play. They also observe how other children play and use their imaginations, and may take things from those interactions and incorporate into their play in the future. By having free play time with other children, separate and distinct from time at school or in sports settings, children become well rounded in their social experiences.
Imagination and executive function are also developed through play. Creativity is inspired through figuring out problems- how to climb a tree or get to the big slide on the playground; imagination cultivated by planning where to dig in the dirt or how to play house. They discover how high they can swing, whether they can climb up the slide, and what it feels like to fall down. Executive function – the skills that help us plan, troubleshoot and multitask – is developed when children have unstructured time with other children.
Fine motor skill and gross motor skill development takes place through exploratory play. Children have to make calculations of their abilities to navigate playground equipment or determine how high they have to jump to not trip over the tree stump. Cardiovascular endurance comes with jumping, running, skipping, climbing, hopping, rolling. Skills necessary for writing, cooking, driving, opening/closing, and other adult tasks are similarly naturally developed through unstructured play when children have to manipulate and maneuver the world on their own.
Now for any of you that aren’t convinced through my perceived benefits of unstructured play, let me tell you something that should convince you- I’ve also found that this makes my kids more cooperative during structured time and much more tired at the end of the day- making bedtime easier! And isn’t it every parent’s dream to simply put your kids in their bed and that be it?
How do you coordinate unstructured play time with your kids?