Finding the right balance between free play and always structuring activities is challenging, but important! Back in the olden days, kids were told to go outside and stay there until supper time, and often they did get into trouble. Now-a-days everything is much more structured; sometimes there isn’t time for experiences to get processed in the little noggin. Both approaches have some good and bad points; so where is the compromise?
Well, the brain processes inputs, developing ideas and then trying out these new ideas. This is how we learn and mentally grow. But the brain can’t grow and learn with someone structuring every minute of every day. Likewise, letting kids completely run wild with little or no supervision, can lead to other negative outcomes.
Enter a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. They looked at 50,000 kids from eight countries, ages 7 to 15, and looked at what they called “risky” play, like climbing trees, riding a bike fast, rough-housing, getting dirty, and doing things where a fall might occur. (We’re NOT talking about letting the kids ride into traffic, jump off of cliffs into 2 feet of water, or other obvious dangerous stunts.) Over all, the review found that such “Free Play” did not put kids in any particular danger. Injuries were actually less in “Free Play” than in organized sports. The researchers also found that some activities like play-fighting or rough-housing helped kids learn to get along and to negotiate. As with all of parenting, some rules need to be set.
This article was just reminding us that “Free Play” is necessary for normal development, and that it is easy in this day and age to get carried away with providing too much structure that doesn’t allow the young brain to explore. And grow. So give that kid a hug, as you provide just the right amount of supervision versus “Free Play”.