Fond memories of my own childhood bring to mind climbing the apple trees nearby the apartment where we lived. To us, these weren’t just trees; they were castles where we played princesses awaiting rescue, towers from which to shower apple “bombs” on the bad guys, and wonderful vantage points from which to play spy detectives on our neighbours as they bustled about their yards. My mother didn’t have to kick us outside; in fact, it was the very opposite; calling us in for the night is what generated a moan of disappointment as she broke through the veil of our latest imaginings. This isn’t something that someone told us we should do. It’s not even something that was suggested as a fun outdoor activity. We were simply let loose and found our way.
It is a very different world today. Very few households don’t enjoy all that technology has to offer with multiple widescreen TV’s and handheld devices to boot. In our household, shutting down devices at a designated time each and every morning and keeping them off until evening elicits groans of disapproval. Our children might not understand the benefits of getting their faces out of the screens, but when I witness some creative play, some whooping through the woods behind our home or the “bunny parties” they enjoy with our furry family members, it seems being an “old fashioned” parent often results in some positive outcome.
Is it really an issue at all? What happens when children don’t enjoy “free play” and the chance to use their imaginations? Who cares if their play involves the use of a screen and some controllers? According to research, the ability of a child to indulge in free play has an effect on a variety of things that play a role their entire lives. Creative play can improve dexterity, hones creative thinking skills and can even help children to understand their impact in a group dynamic.
A large part of creative play involves allowing children to lead the way. If, as a parent, you’re constantly guiding them and taking lead role, the child won’t develop his own creative spark. It helps to take a step back and allow them to discover their imaginative world on their own, dreaming up scenarios and plots as they go. That’s not to say that you can’t be involved or play with them, it only means following their lead and allowing the game to develop around you without having to “correct” or even suggest a better idea.
It’s even better if your child has the opportunity to enjoy free play with other children. This can lead to a collusion of interesting ideas and show your child how to work well with others. Creative play can help with teaching your child social skills that are hard to develop other than by being repeatedly practised. Although team sports and extracurricular activities are wonderful aspects of a child’s life, everyone should have the benefit of unstructured creative play.