Today I took the boys to the lake. We were in a hurry and left the house without any sand toys. I was curious to see how my six year old would do with his "brave talking" (he's the one with Selective Mutism) when around other children. We placed the beach blanket on the sand, and I plopped myself into my chair as the boys ran excitedly to the frigid lake water. I almost got right back up to play with them, but then stopped myself. I decided to "kid-watch" instead. And I'm glad I did.
Immediately, the boys began to swim and play in the water with intermittent squeals as to how cold the water was. Christopher had remembered his over-sized water gun that was in the swim bag. As soon as he ran back to the water's edge, and squirted his brother, it attracted the attention of a few kids around my boys' age. Ok, here was the test... would Christopher talk?
Not only did he talk, but I could hear him suggesting games to play like "run from the shark" and collecting "lake weed" (LOL- "There's no sea weed in a lake", he said.). He and his brother were laughing, running all over the beach, and playing with toys their new friends shared.
So, today's experience reminded me that kids need independent play without a helicopter-mom like me peering over their shoulders and structuring their play. Kids need playtime. Period. And I'm not talking about playing their tech gadgets. I'm talking about real, old fashioned play. But,why is this so important?
Independent, tech-free play is critical because...
- it fosters independence... it teaches kids how to entertain themselves, a necessary skill they must learn as they grow and mature. Independence, slowly moving away from mom and dad's constant direction, is a crucial life-skill. Kids need practice in making good choices when they have "down time".
- it teaches kids about cause-effect, consequences of one's actions, and problem-solving. The more children play independently with themselves, or with other kids, the more they learn about how their actions affect others and how to solve problems without running to mom or dad to solve them.
- it teaches kids creativity... to use their imaginations through play. Turning off the television, the game systems, the iPads, etc. allows for kids to remember that the world is their playground. Go tech-free for a day and watch in wonder as kids rediscover their Legos, Lincoln Logs, the possibilities of an empty cardboard box, making up new games, the fun of building a "tent" out of blankets in the living room, and the thrill of a good book.
- it fosters social skills... like how to meet new friends, how to take turns, how to compromise, how to be a team player, and gives extra practice interacting with others in an unstructured environment. These skills can, in turn, be applied to more structured situations like a classroom environment.
- it provides them choice on their terms... kids love when they can choose what activities they can do and make up their own rules without parents dictating to them (all within reason, of course).. So, if they change the rules as they are playing a board game, that's ok! That's creativity!
How about you? How do you remedy the "I'm bored" complaint or encourage your children or students to play independently?