Let Play Happen

Wednesday 05 Dec

With school holidays right on our doorstep, more than ever it’s time to let play happen.

It’s well documented that anxiety and depression amongst our children is on the incline. Psychologists in the United States argue that a factor in this epidemic is children’s loss of control, decision-making, choice and agency. Feeling a lack of control can cause debilitating stress and can destroy self-motivation in children, just as it does in adults. Free play fosters control, decision-making, choice and agency. When children feel they have influence over the direction of their play they become motivated, self-driven and energetic, they develop confidence and creativity, and they further establish their unique identity.

David Elkind, a developmental psychologist, reported that, in the 20 years leading up to 2008, children had lost more than 12 hours of unstructured play time per week. I wonder what that number would look like now, a further ten years on.

Why is this a problem?

We can get swept up in trying to do what we think is right for our children by carting them from one structured activity to the next and attempting to keep them entertained. Music lessons, sport, horse riding, dance, robotics … these are valuable extra-curricular activities, but they do need to be balanced with abundant free play.

In structured activities and through entertainment, children are often told what to do and told what to think. Structured activities can lead to a focus on goals such as materialism, status, and attempting to live up to the expectations of others. In free play, children learn what to do and learn how to think through experiential activity or, put more simply, through figuring things out for themselves. This can lead to intrinsic aims that foster resilience and bring deep happiness.

Boredom is part of free play. It can be tough at first as we watch our children squirm and hear them complain. But, give them time, and they’ll find something to do on their own. This is an essential skill that will serve them well later in life. They will maintain curiosity and develop creativity, their psychological well-being may improve as they start to feel they have accomplished meaningful enterprises that took time and emotional effort, and they will further develop their own interests and identity. So, these school holidays, let boredom happen. Let free play happen. Watch as your children have a go, take risks, make mistakes, and learn through doing. And, while you’re at it, be released from the burden of entertaining your children and enjoy the freedom of finding a little extra time for yourself. Everybody benefits!

- Jane Mueller, Principal