Free play – How the flavor of independence colours our childhoods!
Freedom to play!
It’s a child's basic right and the path to an independent, fulfilling adulthood. Unstructured, free play is the best for young children. Free play is not planned, it has no specific desired result, except that the child is free to do what they choose at their own pace. If this sounds like something you have all done – climbing trees, swinging on the swing, or just playing with dolls and cars till something else caught your attention or your mom called you for a meal; you did it right! Now it's your little one’s turn to do the same.
Despite all the fancy digital toys or games and complicated structured classes so they can hone their skills, it is free play that helps children explore, discover and express themselves best. All you need to do is facilitate this play, though you could participate in it as well if you choose.
For babies free play would mean letting them see, touch, feel and grasp different shaped and textured objects. They will often mouth these objects, and hence it is essential to make sure they adhere to the highest safety standards possible. Natural materials and non–toxic colors are two crucial yardsticks. As babies sit up and crawl, they can also chase and handle balls, walker and play with activity toys that help them stand and walk.
Toddlers explore further and can play for longer on their own as well. Pretend play is a massive part of toddler time and development. Encourage your child to run, build, push or drag with balls, blocks, pull along toys, etc. Encourage them to play with sound and rhythm toys, dance and clap.
Pre-schoolers thrive on exploration as they take their first independent steps into the outside world. A four-year-old in the playground who has to pick between a swing and a slide is learning to exercise choice, and prioritize. They are learning social skills and negotiation as they wait their turn for a favorite. They are discovering their strengths and developing motor skills as they play with balls and Frisbees or jump rope. Simple jigsaw puzzles and matching games like snap cards help improve your child’s memory and concentration in this time. Playdough and clay are favorites and help your child develop fine motor skills.
Children learn best with abundant opportunities to explore, interact with peers and make choices.
You can be a part of your child’s unstructured play, and it can be a fun experience – or you need not be involved. They will benefit from both scenarios. At times all they need is for you to point them in the right direction – giving them opportunities and providing basics like crayons and coloring sheets or taking them to playgrounds. Sometimes you might need to engage and rough house with them yourself.
So what can you do?
Set up an environment that encourages exploration and learning. There is no set way to play. Let them be who they wish to be as long as they are safe.
Be available to step in when needed and intervene if required. Answer any questions that come up so you can have teaching moments within the free play.
Stay tuned so they do not get into trouble or play with something they should not be. Alternatively, enhance their play by proving more of what they are doing. For instance, stamp sets and paint might be a great addition to kids who are already playing with color crayons.
Make sure play is inclusive especially in a group, and no one is getting picked on or bullied.
Free play must be an important part of every child’s day. Make sure your little one has ample opportunities for free play. Build independence into your little one’s life! Happy playtimes! Happy Independence Day!
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