Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Play and the Over-Scheduled Child

What has happened to free play these days? It appears that in our rush to greatness, we have scheduled ourselves so thoroughly that being able to have free time--and free play--is becoming a rare thing. And, it may be doing more harm to our children than we think.

A recent report by IKEA, the international home furnishings retailer (wonderfully enough), shows that 78% of all parents agree that "children should be allowed to play without it having to be educational." Now, we all like a good educational game, like Think-ets, but when we start to dictate to our kids that all play needs to accomplish something educational or that everything our kid does has to be productive in some way, we may have gone too far.

Studies show that, worldwide, our kids are more stressed than they were a decade ago. This stress can be so great that it even can lead to mental illness. Parents, too, face plenty of social pressure from a variety of sources telling them that their kids need to be high achievers. But it appears to be time for some parents to back off.

Fortunately, the answer is simple and right in front of us: more free play without structure or goals. We need to give our kids time to run around or play "just for the fun of it." No rules. No agenda. No goal in mind. According to the IKEA report, this may be one of the best ways parents can help facilitate a child's healthy development.

So, go ahead. Play a game, have some fun, and let kids be kids by allowing them to play, or think, or dream, or draw without a purpose in mind. We like to call it open-ended play. It may be just what the doctor ordered.