Play skills, similar to other developmental skills, progress in complexity with time and practice. Caregiver support and their role in nurturing a child’s free play skills changes and evolves throughout the play stages.
With the current circumstances we are facing as part of the COVID-19 national lockdown, we need to balance the amount of time children are spending in structured adult-led activities and behind screens, with opportunity for true free play. Free play allows for the development of various physical, cognitive, language and socio-emotional skills, but also contributes greatly to children’s health and well-being.
Free play, with minimal adult interference, will provide them with the opportunity to work on various skills including: problem solving, creative thinking, flexible thinking, initiative and grit, self-regulation skills, working memory, sustained focus, physicality and can provide them with an opportunity to have some quiet time to soothe and calm themselves. Free play with a playmate can further see them developing various socio-emotional skills including: self-expression, negotiation, compromise, perspective taking and empathy. Important skills for the future, wouldn’t you say…?
Some children are natural players, skilled at independent free play and can shift easily between free play, screens and other home activities and tasks. Other children, however, may need more support and guidance to help them to play more independently and become captains of their own play adventures.
During free play a child can create, direct and adapt the play activity and play script as they engage in their play adventure. Free play is intrinsically motivated, spontaneous, not limited by a certain set of rules or directives and not necessarily reality bound.
If you have a little one that requires support in developing their free play skills, have a look at some of my top tips for free play:
- Make free play part of your daily routine.
- Create a safe and calm play space, preferably screen free, that won’t interfere with the flow of their play.
- Don’t overwhelm with too many toys and objects. Rotate items in boxes and containers, keep a few favourites close and include open ended toys and objects, such as wooden blocks or empty boxes.
- After your child chooses a play prompt (or you have provided them with a few choices), allow them time and space for their idea to form.
- Don’t be too quick to offer your own ideas and try to limit the “adult agenda” when it comes to free play.
- Offer encouragement and support, but try not to ask too many questions at the start while their idea is developing. Children need a longer time to process information and for their ideas to take shape. Asking too many questions too early on may discourage them.
For more tips, information and demonstrations on developing and supporting play throughout the play stages as well as other areas of child development, come join our online PlayMore platform. Visit: www.playmoreot.com or our social media platforms @playmoreot on Instagram and Playmoreot on Facebook for more information.
Anandé from PlayMore