If you have young children, it can be hard to know when to step back and leave them to their own devices. There are so many different activities for kids, that it can be tempting to plan out a full schedule for them, which leaves them little unstructured time to themselves.
There has been a shift in emphasis towards structured activities, and there is also more emphasis on academic achievement from an earlier age. Therefore, children often spend most of their ‘free’ time at clubs, sports groups, or doing homework assignments.
However, you are not failing your children by leaving them to their own devices now and then; in fact, quite the opposite. All children need time to explore the world on their own terms, rather than being passively guided by adults. Here are some of the main benefits of letting them do their own thing.
It nurtures creativity
All children have a natural capacity for imaginative play from a very young age, and they will usually engage in it spontaneously. Even if it seems like your child is being idle or wasting time, they should not be discouraged from playing ‘make-believe’ games, either by themselves or with friends.
This kind of play allows them free rein to use their imagination and make up stories, which helps with their social and emotional development. They may develop more confidence in their abilities, if they realise that they can come up with independent ideas free from adult guidance.
It improves social skills
When playing in groups with other children, your child will learn to work as a team, make suggestions, and listen to others’ point of view. Even if disagreements crop up, try not to interfere, and children need to learn how to make compromises, and not always get their own way.
As the children talk about what they are doing, they will naturally be expanding their vocabulary, and will become more confident communicators. Even if they are playing on their own, and chatting to soft toys or dolls, don’t worry! This is perfectly normal behaviour.
It develops problem solving skills
Imaginative play scenarios will soon involve some kind of problem solving, such as what to use for props, and how to fix something that breaks. It allows them the opportunity to think outside of the box, which is necessary for cognitive development and critical thinking.
It improves fine motor skills
All play involves some physical activity, whether it’s developing the manual dexterity to dress a doll in a new outfit, or get to grips with using a paintbrush. Some children are naturally more boisterous, and may prefer to drive an imaginary racing car around a track in the garden, or jump a make-believe pony around a course of obstacles.
This improves cardiovascular health, and helps to develop coordination and suppleness.
Should you provide toys for imaginative play?
Most children will be able to make up games on their own, and will use props of their own finding. However, some basics, such as art and craft materials and playmats will always be useful.
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