Why do we all keep going on and on and on about Play? Is it really that important? Isn’t it something that kids just do anyway? Why do we need to be so mindful of it? Isn’t play natural and part of every childs everyday experience?

Those are all really great questions and as I’ve been reflecting on my childrens lives and what I read about in articles, blog posts and social media in recent times, I felt I had to voice some of my own reasons for why I’m passionate about Play.

Now let me be clear, the Play I am discussing here is free, unstructured, child-directed and adult-uninfluenced Play. And that amount of criteria seems difficult to achieve in our modern lives. It wasn’t always this way, we all know that. We only need to look back into our childhoods to know that we had a lot of autonomy when it came to living out our imaginary playful fantasies, but today, this is rare.

Against popular public opinion, I don’t believe children need adult-curated activities to play. They will grow into complete humans if they spend hours meandering around your backyard, looking for worms in the grass and staring off into space. In my opinion, there is very, very little need for adults to be involved in children’s creative play ventures. We need to take a full step back and realise, they’ve got this!

It’s not so much important what children are doing when they play, it’s the fact that it’s the child who has made their own decisions (or as a collaborative effort as part of a group of other children) in play that is important. Autonomy in play is the key. And autonomy in play is what we as a society are slowly (or quickly depending on where they live and what the child does with their time) killing off. We are scheduling and ruling their lives. Apart from safety of self and others, I honestly don’t believe there should be any other governing criteria when it comes to Play. It is something that comes naturally to all children, but being individuals, they all play in their own wonderful ways. And we have to learn to accept that.

Play, is the very vital way that children make sense of their world. Sometimes they do this with props – sticks, dolls, cars etc and sometimes they do this with reading, and sometimes they do this by playing games with others, and sometimes it manifests in daydreams. All types of play that are just as important as each other.

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There is no ‘best’ way to play. Please don’t believe that lie. A child knows exactly what works for them and that’s why it needs to be child-directed. They are completely capable of it. They don’t need to be ‘shown’ what to do with the blocks or the dolls or the lego. They can figure it out and make up their own rules. Or do away with the rules altogether (apart from safety as mentioned above). I can promise you the benefits will be countless.

In our family, we are completely privileged to watch this happen, day in and day out in our home.  I don’t need to create activities for my children because they are capable of doing that themselves. And although we do have a variety of resources and toys in our home for our children to develop their play with, it’s not exactly necessary. I’ve seen them play for longer with dirt and water than with any toy.

I’ll let you in on a secret to Play – nature is your best friend. There is nothing that humans have created (expect maybe books and Lego!) that is better than what already exists in nature. Allow your children plenty of time to explore, to create, to get dirty, to dig and to run in nature and not only will this develop many different centres in their brain, it will also help them to appreciate the earth we walk on.

Play wasn’t developed by anyone, and it’s not something that needs to be messed around with. It’s a form of research and exploration that we’re all equipped with from birth. It is a necessary tool we have to use to grow into fully developed adults. Children who spend lots of time making their own decisions – and mistakes – through play in childhood, don’t feel the need to take as many risks in adulthood, which means they feel more ready to move into the adult role and the responsibilities it demands. This is important. Play is important.

Practical Ways Our Family Makes Play Easy in our Modern World

  • Have all our toys and resources displayed in easily accessible shelves and storage so that when inspiration strikes the children are able to access the necessary materials without adult involvement
  • Open-ended toys and resources really do help nurture their imaginations. Too many plastic, flashy, battery-operated toys limit and bore them.
  • Free access to the outdoors. Our children come in and out as they please, and they regulate this very well eg, they naturally don’t go out in the middle of the day because they’ve learned it’s too hot to play.
  • Lots of time in nature with the freedom to play as they wish. Often we meet up with other families at a nature reserve or beach, and us adults sit and chat while the children run around and play for hours. I do this with my kids on my own too, and they are never bored.
  • Although technology is an amazing tool, I believe our imaginations are even more amazing and as a family we choose to live without a TV. We’ve done long hours in the car and such events without individual iPads and our children have survived.
  • If there is stress in your life, then I believe the child needs even more time to play. This is where they decompress. Play can truly be therapy. I don’t believe an adult needs to be involved with this – others may beg to differ – but I think if children feel safe coming to us to ask questions and express emotions, then play can be their personal oasis where they can act out and make sense of what’s happening around them.
  • I watch my children and learn to appreciate what they are capable of. Observation can be a powerful tool, and although I don’t interrupt my children’s play unless asked a question or necessary (to help solve a dispute) I often hear what they are playing and it helps me to know them better and what they are processing.
  • Lots of time. Lots and lots of time. And if you think there is space for more, then allow it. Let the time go. It isn’t being wasted, it’s being used and enjoyed.

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