HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
June 18, 2007, Herald Journal

Good old-fashioned free play


A couple of weeks ago, my family and I were at a baseball game a neighboring community. Needless to say, most of the kids that were in attendance at the game were not “attending” to the game, but rather to a more interesting attraction to them, large sand and clay piles, rather, hills of clay and sand.

There was city-related construction that was occurring which resulted in these large mounds of “play” hills. Luckily, for the children, it was a Sunday, so there was no active work occurring, except by the children.

Play is, of course, children’s work. These massive mounds of dirt (kid magnets, as I call them) were calling out to the children to come and dig and play and jump and slide and that is just what the kids did, including mine.

I was hesitant to allow my children to play in these piles, but it was getting harder to negate their requests when most of the children were indulging in their work at-hand. When my husband and I gave our kids the “thumbs up” to join the fun (with some restrictions), there was no hesitation on their part.

As I watched the children play on these hills, their creativity and imagination rose to the occasion.

With just their bodies and the sand, they built small tunnels (not large enough to crawl through though), slid, skied and ran down the hills, jumped over obstacles, and created individual getaways.

My thoughts trailed back to when I was a child and did exactly what they were doing. Whether it was a sand pile or a snow pile, or just the yard itself, I did exactly what these children were doing. I engaged in good old-fashioned free play.

This play allows children to use their imaginations and creativity and encourages them to learn about their surroundings and the natural world around them.

A report completed by the Academy of Pediatrics revealed that unstructured play is essential for children’s cognitive, physical, social and emotional development and well-being.

In an article, “Just Let Them Play” on Moms Network, Connecting @ Home, Spring 2007, it was noted that allowing our children to engage in natural play is very important. Allowing kids to learn naturally through play helps children develop well-rounded thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

In this day and age, we are caught up in starting our children at younger ages with the ABCs and other academic skills. We should not forego free play for this.

“Play empowers children by putting them in control and creating the first realizations of independence,” the article said. It is how kids discover their emotions and their personal likes.

In fact, New York pediatrician Dr. Laura Pepper says that play is the very cornerstone of a child’s childhood.

“Regardless of the generation or the location on this planet, play is a universal truth for kids,” she said, which was noted in the article.

Dr. Pepper advises parents not to view play as wasted time, but as probably the most valuable time of all for kids.

The role of toys should also support the value of free, fun play.

Toys should be appropriate for a child’s age, stage, and interests, Nancy Kristensen, MA noted in an article, “Helping Your Child Grow Through Creative Play.”

Free play is extremely important. It is also important to “play” with your children, too, and enter their world of imagination and creativity. This not only will strengthen the parent-child bond, but it is good for us as adults too.

When our children want some time to “just play,” don’t discourage it, but encourage and support it and at times, join in with it. We’re never too old to engage in some good old-fashioned free play.