I'm happy to see that there are more studies lately that are taking a look at how unstructured playtime affects children's overall well being. And, although there hasn't been definitive links in the research yet, there has been some great progress. For example, this study by researchers at the University of Colorado suggests that children who have more time to themselves tend to have better goal-setting abilities and don't need as much prompting by parents.
Hold on a moment while I savor the idea of not having to prompt my son to do things over and over again...
As a Mom with a full-time job, I understand how difficult it is to find free blocks of time - especially on the weekends when we are usually running errands or meeting friends for a play date. So, what's the solution here?
- Schedule unstructured play. This sounds a little foolish, but making sure your child has a block of time during the day where he can make his own choices about what to play and do is important.
- Stay away. This one is hard for me. Generally, if I can't hear my son talking, I worry. But, if I am giving him free time to use as he likes, then I need to be prepared to not interrupt him.
- Provide options. My son has access to lots of activities - Play Doh, toys, drawing materials, books, puzzles and games. Most of them are within plain sight, if he only looks for them.
- Don't criticize. If my son wants to spend his free time playing on his Leap Pad, then that is his choice. I shouldn't suggest anything else for him to do.
- Lead by example. Schedule some free time in your day for you to enjoy your own pursuits. (Again, this one is tough, I know.)