Imaginary play with pretend characters, a cardboard box, and a set of crayons is one of the most valuable educational opportunities for children. In fact, open-ended play is an essential part of childhood.
Jessica Lahey in her article, “Why Free Play is the Best Summer School,” says, “It’s the end of another academic year and time for summer … Unscheduled, unsupervised playtime is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health.”
But for many children, summer time is simply a shift from one group of structured activities to another.
Lahey reports on a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado on the play habits of six-year old children. They measured how much time each child spent in spontaneous play versus time in structured activities, such as lessons and sports practice.
“Children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive function. The opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control.”
Free play literally develops a child’s intellect: their planning, organization, problem solving and goal setting skills.
All of that happens when children play—just play.
So what’s the take away for parents?
- Fill the summer months with unstructured, creative playtime for your child.
- Remember to keep open-ended play a part of your child’s everyday life. Horseplay and role play with your little one.
- Tell stories and use your voice to become a character.
- Listen to music and move to music.
- Read aloud and talk about storybooks.
- And remember the basics: blocks, a cardboard box, a box of crayons, saucepans, and wooden spoons are just fine.
“Parents, if you really want to give your kid a head start on coming school year, relinquish some of that time you have earmarked for lessons or sports camp and let your children play. That’s it. Just play.” —Jessica Lahey