Let them (Free) Play

Post by Liza Sulinski

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After I diligently completed my homework, my mother would shove me out the door, saying, “Don’t come back until it’s time for dinner!” I did not realize it then, but this was a huge benefit to my brothers and me. We would make up games, explore nature, work together and discover things on our own. No parents, no coaches, no rules. In a world in which competition, organized sports and teams are the norm, free play has taken a huge hit. However, unstructured and ungoverned time to play, is an essential ingredient to healthy child development. We cannot underestimate how important free play is in promoting brain health, resilience, creative problem solving, memory and so much more. Studies have shown that children who play with toys that do not have one way to fit together or a set of directions (think about Legos without the boxes!) often think outside the box, literally, when solving problems on their own. Significant research into specific subject areas indicate gains in math, language and reasoning for children who are encouraged to play freely. This weekend, in the midst of another snow storm, please have your child step away from the video games, the televisions, and even the sports balls, and instead hand her a pillowcase filled with random objects and have her try to make up a story that involves all of the objects! Ask him to make up a recipe. Have her take some chalk and draw a made-up world. The fewer specifications the better. At first, 4th graders who I teach who crave organization and rules, will probably ask for guidelines, expectations, the number of lines in the story. Resist the urge to give them, encourage them to have fun and make it up. There is no right answer! Please give one of these– or something similar– a try. And if you do, please let me know how it goes (llevinson@saes.org). To learn more about the cognitive benefits of Free Play: http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html

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