The benefits of free play

Free play

Much is been written lately about the negative impact that smart phones and access to the internet are having on children and adolescence. One of the biggest problems in children’s development is what they miss while sitting in front of a screen: playing with real kids in the real world.

In other words, an effective antidote to excessive time in front of screens is to do what many generations of children used to do:  play outside, improvise games and learn how to organize among themselves and how to get along. 

Today, parents’ busy schedules and their own dependence on the iPhone, tablet and PC, may mislead them to see screens as a helpful entertainer for their children. Unfortunately, play time with friends is scarce, and screentime is wrongfully used as a substitute as soon they learn to play games with their friends. This dynamic may seem harmless when children are still young, and in the short term it makes life easier for parents at home. But it is a trap for both parents and kids, and research has already concluded that is affecting our children and their adolescence.  The older the child, the more challenging it is to correct the problem.

Let’s be honest, it is the parents, not the children, who can prevent or reverse these problems. 

In his book The Anxious Generation, Jonathan Haith describes the importance for children of unstructured time with friends: evolution installed in children the motivation to play to make learning easy and likely. Kids have the need to play. Playing, describes Haith, allows basics skills repetition in a low-risk environment where the child experiments feedback from success and failure in a low-risk environment. Playing allows the child to develop social, cognitive and emotional skills.

For today’s parents, understanding the benefits of free play is encouraging and liberating. I hope it will inspire parents to plan more free play time with other kids in the back yard, park, pool, mountain or beach.  

Let kids be kids!

Happy Summer! – Pepa

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