Television, video games, drawing classes, singing classes, basketball coaching, and the pressure to be the best at everything; these are just a few of the 'responsibilities' that kids have to deal with today. Gone are the days where children used to look forward to going out and playing with their friends, injuring themselves, having fights with friends, and then making up the very next day. Gone are the days when innocence was a virtue, and children learned things in due course. It is not really their fault.
Times have changed, and parents have been forced to succumb to these changing trends, to make their kids the best at what they do so that they are prepared for the big bad world. What however, is forgotten is that kids need their time to grow, to develop, to learn a little on their own. That is where the concept of free play comes in. That is how children should ideally learn.
What is Free Play?
Free play has been described as a fun activity that a child willingly chooses and engages in. It is an activity that does not have any goal, but still has an underlying process that also encourages learning. It is supervised by adults but they are not permitted to intrude in this process.
Why is Free Play Important for Children?
It has been found that children in this generation are far different from those in the previous generations. These are children who lack curiosity, because everything is served to them on a platter. These are children who don't have the freedom to think creatively, because of the bindings that have been placed on them to excel in everything they do. All this has resulted in poor communication, social, and critical thinking skills.
It is common knowledge that unless you experience something yourself, no matter how much you are told what is important, the effect isn't as strong. This does not mean children should be allowed to venture into dangerous avenues just for the sake of learning. However, giving children some time on their own to allow them to do exactly what they want, under adult supervision, is a great idea.
In this free time, children develop their own thought process; they meet other children and are encouraged to think differently, to accept and disagree with a variety of viewpoints, to implement all the behavioral patterns and manners you have imbibed in them, and to learn how to deal with and resolve conflict in a group. Free play is also known to encourage the development of leadership qualities that are so necessary today. Free play allows children to learn about themselves in relation to their surrounding environment. So, some of the biggest benefits of free play are as follows.
- Free play does not place any pressure on children to 'perform'. It is free in the true sense of the word, in that children can think and act by their own choice.
- In fact, children who are under a lot of pressure due to the several things that are being forced upon them may find free play therapeutic.
- It allows children to venture into a world of fantasy and helps them resolve their own issues by fantasy play.
- Free play encourages learning by playing so that children learn how to communicate, socialize, and behave in a healthy manner.
- By having first hand experiences, children learn from their own mistakes so that they are not repeated again.
- Free play helps foster healthy relationships and allows children to choose their friendships.
- Free play allows children to take control, something that is missing from their regular lives. Such control also helps build their confidence and their self-esteem.
- Engaging in free and creative play allows children to apply the concepts they have learned to different situations. They are able to relate to a variety of situations and become capable of dealing with them appropriately.
- Finally, free play also allows parents to learn lesser known details about their child's personality and strengthens the bond between them. This results in the development of a healthy parent-child relationship that allows the child to openly communicate with her/his parent.
These benefits are most applicable when a child is allowed to indulge in free play from an early age. Taking out the time to allow children to learn on their own is probably the biggest favor that parents and teachers can do on them. It is not necessary that children have to be with other children or adults when engaging in free play. It can even be allowed alone, where a child can connect with her/himself to learn. In short, free play creates a sense of alertness, it makes children flexible and adaptable to newer environments, and allows them to foster creative approaches to various problems.
A child who is allowed to think for her/himself will grow up to be a more independent, creative adult. Parents are therefore requested by psychologists to allow them this little time every day, where a child can fulfill her/his thirst for knowledge, quench her/his inquisitiveness by being allowed to explore, and shape her/his own personality to become a unique, successful adult who is capable of dealing with a variety of social situations.