An Argument for Free Play in a Child’s Development
Wherever one looks today it is apparent our society is overweight and inactive. Often, however, it is not the fault of the child, but of society itself. Children like to play and our society struggles to allow children to play by themselves. We attempt to entertain children and keep them busy. There are many groups who list many types of play but for the benefit of this readership we will only look at two types and the benefits therein.
The first type of play is “Unstructured’. The child is alone and finds things to do. This play normally takes place in solitaire or in small groups. There are marked benefits of this type of play; creativity and role playing, learning to deal with aloneness and potential boredom, developing fine motor skills and brain development. This type of play is set by the child himself/herself.
The second type of play is “Structured”. This type involves rules and set behaviors. Play of this nature normally is structured by adults to develop skills necessary for the child to be a success later in life (also for babysitting purposes). Examples of structured play are gymnastics for 2-3 year olds, tiny tot swim, t-ball and the like. If one really looks into structured play, the root is one of four concepts; Adults don’t want to appear to society as a bad or un-nurturing parent, or adults want to develop the child to pursue future scholarships, or the adult is reliving his/her life through the activities of the child, or the adult needs child care. All four concepts, though well intentioned, are fulfilling adult needs.
As the reader has discerned, the author is an advocate of free play, unfettered by adult rules. Free play lends itself to the child’s development in creativity and major social needs, i.e., negotiation and leadership, all without adult sponsorship. Children are able to and can set their own parameters, they don’t always need parents (adults) to entertain or lead them. Free play has a side benefit’ once taught, parents obtain more free play time. Once a child can espouse their own desires, skills necessary for most sports can be nurtured with greater enthusiasm from the child.
So perhaps we as a society are dealing with a conundrum. Adults want to organize the play activities of their children because it helps the adults and because they are concerned that their children learn the “right” ways to play games. Children may actually benefit more by being left on their own to learn the social graces that accompany the playing of games. What’s a society to do?
What do you think readers?
Dr. Phillips is a 40 year educator. He has authored numerous articles and made a myriad of presentations on movement and movement education. Currently he is employed at the United States Sports Academy as the Chair of Sports Studies.