Why unstructured play is better than OK

It seems like everyone I know has their kids in t-ball, soccer camp, piano or music camp this summer. I blame Facebook. After all, 10 years ago we wouldn't have known what 100 of our friends were doing every second of every day (and you know they only post the best moments of their lives). 

I know what you're thinking: she doesn't have enough money or time to do those things. But actually, we do. My husband and I both work full time, and I work from home so I could probably make it work for my kids to do several activities.  But I'm protesting the over-scheduled summer. 

I'm letting my kids sleep in. And watch TV. And play with the iPad. And eat junkier food than I'd normally let them eat. (My kids are 6 and 8.) But here's the clincher:

Even with all our regular "rules" tossed aside, they spend almost all day and night outside just playing. And I love it. And the more I read about kids' brains, the more I realize that "free play" is just as good at building their brain's "muscles" as it is their body's muscles.

Just check out this article I stumbled across:


Here's an excerpt:

"The authors studied the schedules and play habits of 70 six-year-old children, measuring how much time each of them spent in “less structured,” spontaneous activities such as imaginative play and self-selected reading and “structured” activities organized and supervised by adults, such as lessons, sports practice, community service and homeworkThey found that children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive functionThe opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control."

Don't get me wrong; I'm not knocking structured activities, my kids have done plenty: karate, piano, swim lessons, gymnastics, running club, etc. 

But there's something to be said about hearing a bunch of kids playing in the back yard at 8 p.m. or choosing to ride their scooter instead of watch a movie. I love hearing them assign roles, yell warnings about the "hot lava" under the hammock and beg to stay in their bathing suits at dinner so they can get right back in the pool. 

I realize not everyone has the option to stay home with their kids (mine went to daycare for a couple summers because I worked so much). It's a luxury in some ways. But this year I was lucky enough to have all the stars aligned for a couple months (kids ages, working from home, safe neighborhood, fenced yard, tons of kids the same age as mine within walking distance), and I feel very, very fortunate. 

Just typing this was a good reminder that every moment of ANYONE'S life doesn't need to be structured (but especially kids). "Just playing" is fine (better than fine, actually). Oh yeah, and I need to take a break from Facebook.



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