Why free play, and some boredom, is vital for your kids development

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"Free play gives children an outlet to express their feelings and thoughts and discover who they are." Photo: Getty Images
"Free play gives children an outlet to express their feelings and thoughts and discover who they are." Photo: Getty Images

Parent-child playtime is as essential and beneficial to your child as much as the free play is. Children learn through play and much more when the space is less supervised.

News24 chatted to Jennifer da Silva, a registered Educational Psychologist with private practices in Randburg and Fourways. Although da Silva has recently moved overseas, her perspective on play therapy remains relevant.

Da Silva says that children learn through play. She brought to our attention a study published in 2014, which discovered that 6-year-old children who engaged in a lot of free play showed stronger levels of executive functioning, that is, the ability to manage themselves and achieve their goals.

Read: Play-date etiquette: Muslim moms share a few things to keep in mind

'Expressing their feelings'

She says that free play gives children an outlet to express their feelings and thoughts and discover who they are. It lays the foundation for learning that is fun, natural and self-driven.

"Free play and the activity that comes with it is essential for gross and fine motor development," says da Silva.

Research shows that free play even changes the neurons in the prefrontal cortex during childhood – prepping the brain to regulate emotions, make plans and solve problems, she notes.

'Learning social skills'

"Children also learn how to socialise during play. This is vital for acquiring skills such as turn-taking behaviour in play and communication and helps with learning socialisation skills and forming and maintaining friendships with their peers," says da Silva.

Because "play is creative and therefore stimulates creative thinking and allows children to assess risks. This, in turn, increases self-esteem."

She suggests that parents should encourage free play by reducing screen time because children naturally gravitate towards play."

'Praise your child's play.'

She says that it's important to praise your child's play and encourage them to play in different ways.

"If necessary, model this play and then gradually offer less support. Let your children be bored. Instead of jumping in and offering activities, let your child work through their boredom with play," she advises.

She added that even the simplest toys (rocks and stones) could be transformed into beautiful toys in your child's imagination.

However, she says you must let your child experience boredom first as it stimulates curiosity and ignites their imagination.

Must read: Lego to remove gender bias from its toys after findings of child survey

'Parents struggling to let go.'

Da Silva says that if a parent struggles with unsupervised play, they must start with 20 minutes when there is some housework, phone call to make or generally any work to do.

She says, "let your child know where you are and let them know that you will check in on them in 20 minutes, or however much time you are comfortable with, and that they are in a safe space to play."

"Offer imaginary toys such as dolls, cars, puppets, Lego or offer them a box of random items such as sticks, pebbles, feathers, buttons, toilet rolls, cardboard boxes and let them create their toys however they like," suggests da Silva.

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