The Importance of Free Play

rolling down a hill
rolling down a hill by woodleywonderworks on flickr

I never tire of watching children play.  Maybe part of it is I'm jealous.  They are so free, focused, and enveloped in their play.  Not a care in the world.  Play for its own sake.  The only purpose is fun.

How hard it is for us as adults to let go.  Let go of all the responsibilities, the to-do list, the "monkey mind" buzzing, buzzing away.  As if by letting go, nothing will get done and our world would fall apart.

Meanwhile, we as adults have encroached on the child's world and overscheduled them with activity after activity, rationalizing that if we keep them busy they'll stay out of trouble.  If we're really honest with ourselves, we can admit that our children are an extension of ourselves.  If they succeed, we succeed.  We think that we must give them every opportunity, every lesson, every experience or they won't go to an Ivy League school, make tons of money succeed.  But we've got it all wrong.

Free, unstructured play is the best kind of play.  Free, unstructured play is the best kind of play.  No, that's not an error.  It's so important I said it twice.

PLEASE, PLEASE read or scan this brief article from The American Academy of Pediatrics.  Download it, print it off, copy it, and share with everyone you can think of--friends, parents, child care workers, teachers, etc.

How can you add more free, unstructured play in your child's life?

Children model what they see the adults in their lives do.  How can you add more free play in your own life?  The kind where you really let go.  How will you do it for even 30 minutes this weekend?

P.S. This idea of overscheduled, free play deprived kids is nothing new.  One of the first people I heard speak about it was Dr. Billy Doherty at an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy conference years and years ago. His Putting Family First is recommended.  And, of course, there's the classic The Hurried Child first written in 1981.