Are our kids playing enough and are they having as much free play as they need?. This interesting question is raised all the time and we know that our kids do play however, it is evident that they do not free play enough.
According to Howard Chudacoff, Peter Gray and others, Play has been declining over the years since the 1950’s, and it is attributed to ongoing changes in our societies in which our children are being deprived of the opportunities to grow as children as they did previously.
Free play is very important for the child and parent in that, it allows the child to make his or her own decisions and direct the play freely without an adult influencing the thought and decision making process. Our kids do require the advantages of free play throughout the developmental stage.
In the book, “The decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in children and adults” Peter Gray argues that the lack of and decline of free play has led to the growth of many issues in children with them experiencing anxiety; to a large extent depression; feelings of helplessness; narcissism; ADHD and to the extreme end psychopathological tendencies.
We are inclined to agree with him and it is noted that this decline is attributed to many factors which include endless hours spent on television watching, internet, digital electronic games and endless social media streams. Secondly, over the decades, school hours have increased and in tandem so has the homework. Thirdly, adult controlled school activities plays have increased to the extent that children no longer play without a schedule or instructions. Regretably, free play has almost ceased to be part of a child’s daily activity.
Currently, most children no longer live in community-based societies like they did prior to the digital millennial; or in the early 20th century. Family units are now much smaller and more isolated. In the 1970’s a family unit would have at least four to six or even more children. This allowed the children to have sibling companions, and to which free play was an integral part. The school hours were less and there were fewer adult directed school extra-curricular activities.
Lev Vygotsky (1978) states that ‘Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra-psychological)’. Following this analogy from an expert, we can therefore confirms that free play is one of the most important functions in a growing child.
Play functions as the major means by which children:- a) develop intrinsic interests and competencies; (b) learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules; (c) learn to regulate their emotions; (d) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and (e) experience joy. Through all of these effects, play promotes mental health. Peter Gray (2016)
In conclusion, we can deduce that free play serves a variety of developmental functions, all of which promote children’s mental health. In the absence of such play, children fail to acquire the social and emotional skills that are essential for healthy psychological development.
You as a parent can bring so much joy to your child. Allow the child to freely spend more time playing with friends, siblings and most of all ‘Let Kidz Play’