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  • Writer's pictureViktoryia Biheza Ferretti

The Power of Free Play

Play is a universal child's language, their hard work, the air they are breathing. How often have you heard someone say to a young child or said it yourself: "Stop playing!" For them it translates to kind of "Stop being..." Benefits of "free" or unsupervised, undirected play include the development of critical thinking and problem-solving, finding creative responses to challenges and creativity in general, cultivating independence, confidence, patience, etc, etc. Through playing out familiar scenes from their daily lives ("pretend play") children work out important social and emotional issues from their worlds. You probably heard the expression of "little people, big feelings," which essentially refers to our kids experiencing deep complexity in their emotional lives, and yet lacking the cognitive processing or verbal ability to "deal" with it. This is where free play comes in!

As I am writing this, most of us are still under some kind of stay at home, shelter in place, etc order, meaning our kids are not at schools socializing with their little friends and not roaming free in the parks and playgrounds, a perfect place to play out just about anything! (*sigh*) Many parents feel incredible pressure to continue packing littles' schedules with activities,virtual this time, perhaps more pressure than ever! They MUST learn, they must be busy, mustn't they? They are missing OUT! This goes hand in hand with the general tendency in our culture to aspire raising little geniuses. Music classes, Zumbini, social clubs, Arts and preArts, etc. are being offered starting from infancy and are described as necessary tools to "shape your child's brain," to "help them reach their highest potential," "to give them an early start" etc etc... Nothing against those activities! I took my son to a few as well! Some were enjoyable- for him and for me! However, folks, none of them are necessary for your child's "potential." Your child learns watching an ant colony dragging a leaf, a bee hopping from one flower to another, jumping in a muddy puddle and simply playing without rules (except safety of course) and supervision...

Some basic skills of a play therapist include implementing child led activities- we do not tell children that a plane must fly if they insist that this plane is an actual "submarine." If a dragon eats a princess we do not run to the rescue and call him "big scary monster dragon" and "can we please rescue a beautiful princess." Also at a certain age death becomes a very favorite topic... Do not be alarmed. :)

Children often need us to play with them. Some more than others! But what they mean is they need our presence, not our rules and guidance (they need those too but not during play time:) I do not suggest you play with your child ALL THE TIME. Join them when you can- sit near by, observe and reflect. You will be amazed of how efficiently they can play! And they start very young too:) If you cannot join your child, let them know they have this time to play by themselves! They may and likely will complain, whine, nag or beg. Be gentle but firm and you will see what magic free play can rise out of boredom! Not to mention- it's free...:)

Stay well!

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