Childhood.... a time filled with laughter, fun, play, and the outdoors. Ask most adults of their fondest memories of their childhood and these are the things they longingly recall, yet in our own children's lives these elements are all to distant of a concept.
Today's world is one that is filled with things like academic testing, homework, after school programs and activities, and organized sports. These concepts, while acceptable to many, are foreign to our children's true developmental calling.
Children, by design are quite different from adults; not just in size, but in the way they contemplate, investigate, and process the world around them. While organizing a child's world with structure and routine is beneficial to many ends, doing that to their "free time" can be detrimental. Children use free play to learn. Play is the way they enhance their physical, emotional, and mental functioning. Play is where stressors are diminished. Play is where relationships are formed. Play is where social norms are decided and practiced. It is where imagination and creativity thrive.
So many benefits are derived through regular, child created, unstructured play and yet it has all but disappeared. In schools, children often do not get out for recess, and if they do, it is a mere 20-30 minutes. Children need a minimum of 1 hour to let the natural process of play begin to work its wonders. So what can we, as parent do about this? How can we promote an environment that enables our children to play?
As with anything that is important to you and your family, it begins with a decision and a commitment. Decide that play matters and find the time and space to offer it to your children. Go to the playground more, run around the field playing tag, kick the can, or any other game that your child suggests. Let your children choose what to play and what the "rules" are if any. Invite neighborhood friends over, or better yet, have a standing day where you get the children together to play. Children do not need to be told how to play, they just need to have the time and space provided for them and they will flourish.