How does one define “play”? Kids have playdates and just have playtime by themselves around the house, but is there one specific right way to play. Parents should pay attention to how their kids are playing – by themselves, with others, structured, or freely.
You can “play soccer” but if something is structured and not spontaneous can it truly be defined as playing. According to experts, it cannot. “Play” is something that is unstructured, spontaneous, and not governed by any rules. An easy comparison is watching two kids play soccer. One’s experience is through a soccer team and the other one is through independent play in their backyard. The one on the soccer team has her time on the field defined by her position and the coaches call. The other one gets to spontaneously play whenever she wants. She can be creative and throw the soccer ball if she wants. She can come up with an imaginary friend to play with. Either or, she is in control of her play time. She gets to decide what is happening. Is one of these methods of play necessarily better than another?
Both forms of “play” are important to children who are growing up, but it is important that they experience both. Structured sports help to teach kids valuable lessons about respecting the roles of their teammates and how to become part of a team. Additionally, they learn how to become good sports experiencing both wins and losses.
On the flip side, kids learn how to problem solve and how to think of situations in untraditional ways through spontaneous play. It has been proven that kids who spent most of their time in structured activities struggle when they become teens and young adults because they begin to learn that life is unpredictable and don’t know how to cope. These skills can become extremely valuable later in life. Independent play time helps kids solve problems themselves and use their imagination to create new solutions.
So what is the right amount of play? Well there are four different kinds:
- Outdoor play – this is when they get to use their large muscles and participate is lots of physical workouts. This is when your kid gets to have fun outside, breathing in the fresh air and not being confined to the four walls of your house.
- Parental Play – playing with parents is extremely important to build a strong bond between the two of you. This is when you guys can form memories. Just go along with what your kid wants to do, this is not the time to parent your kid, just let them use their imagination.
- Friendly Play – this is when kids play with their friends and it is also important to teach friendship and social skills. These social skills will become visible during school and later in life. It is important for them to know how to form friendships and relationships with others.
- Independent Play – this is when a lot of children’s creativity is formed and when they develop self-reliance. A child must be able to be independent and form their own decisions.
Ultimately, it is most important to raise your child with a balance of structure and free play.