Last week, I decided to conduct a small experiment with my 7 year old son. Little did I know at that time, how it would all pan out for both of us. I was continually stressed with not being able to manage my time more effectively due to increasing work pressure and my son was getting too much screen time thanks to that. So, last Friday, I asked him to go out and play and not return until dinner time. Mentally I made a note to check on him after an hour or so, that is if he didn’t show up before that.
An hour passed quickly and I found myself wondering why he still hadn’t shown up. I decided to stretch it just a little and waited another 20 minutes or so. Finally I was worried that something may have happened or that the neighbors must be thinking what a bad parent I am. We live in a gated community where unsupervised play is unheard of. So I set off in search of my son.
I found him with a group of his friends meticulously trying to lift ants on a leaf and transferring them to a hole in the mud. As I walked away from that scene, I was still a little shaken from the amount of time it had taken me to find him. But I was happy too. I promised myself to keep sending him out for unsupervised play every day.
Here is what I believe. Children today don’t spend as much time playing outdoors as they should. It will be ridiculous to compare it to the times when I was a child where outdoor activity was our only recourse to entertainment. But a little effort from parents will ensure that our children benefit from the many benefits of free play.
Free play allows children to behave, make decisions, solve problems on their own, negotiate in a tricky situation, control impulses, follow rules and regulate their emotions. I also believe it helps them to emphasize without being told by an adult, how the other party is feeling in a standoff. It really should come from within. And it will if we allow it to happen before jumping in and telling children how they should feel.
Kids in my son’s class have a tight schedule. A sport class, an art class, karate class and tuitions is what fills their day up till 5or 6 in the evening. Even if I was to let my son go out and play earlier in the evening, there would be no one to play with, making it unattractive for him to play outside.
If only we as adults could speak to each other and understand and address this need for more free play. Engage our children in these crucial life lessons instead of a hobby class he/she may not even be interested in going to, our children can learn so much without anyone instructing them. Well, that is what I’m actually going to do. Speak to likeminded families and get our children to play unsupervised as much as we can. Here’s to Hope!