Ah, space. I love it. I can’t get enough of it. I’m an introvert, so people who know me understand just how important my space is to me. Especially the neighbours, who regularly hear my hollers of “I JUST NEED SOME SPACE!!!!!!!” when my daughter has perched herself on my shoulders, spilt her smoothie all over me or refused to detach herself from my leg while I’m trying to do (insert any kind of activity you can think of here) one too many times.
It seems kids have no concept of time or space. But did you know these two glorious things we parents dream about are exactly what children need when it comes to play?
We all know that play is important to a child’s development and wellbeing. Free play – play that is unstructured and child-led – leads to so much informal yet important learning. The problem is, our hectic lives often mean less opportunity and freedom for play.
Sadly, parents need to work to pay the bills (tell you something you don’t know, right?). We often must work long hours, which means we come home tired and the last thing we want to do is take the kids to the playground before getting dinner organised, ensuring homework gets done, etc.
Add to this all the structured extracurricular activities available to kids these days. For example, my five-year-old daughter does swimming and gymnastics. These two activities take up two afternoons a week, but if we wanted, she could also do ballet, soccer, touch footy and learn to play the ukulele! All her free time? Gone!
What’s more, the physical space to play is disappearing. According to Play Australia: “In 40 years, backyards have gone from being at least ¾ of a block to less than ½ a block, in many cases this space being dedicated to ‘outdoor entertaining’, rather than the nostalgic grass, trees, washing line and shed of old.”
So, how can we ensure our kids get more time and space for free play?
1. Try not to crowd your schedule
While it’s great for your child’s confidence and physical health to get involved in after-school sports and extracurricular activities, keep at least a couple of afternoons free. Let them relax – and even get bored – so they can use their imagination, explore and problem solve during some free play.
2. Take a back seat
Encourage your child to play without you. You still need to supervise, but do so from a distance. Try not to always get involved or direct their play.
3. Get outside more
It’s not always easy, but it’s important to let your child experience different outdoor environments. Visit a playground, explore the bush or take a trip to the beach. Once you reach your destination, give your child the freedom to choose what they do.
4. Make the most of your backyard
Even if your backyard is small, there is plenty of potential there for free play. Sometimes, you just need to turn off the TV and coax your little ones outside.
And remember, by giving your children the time and space to play, you give yourself some time and space – to have a cuppa, read a book or simply zone out for a few minutes! Bliss!
Post written by the gorgeous Lauren Shay from Full Stop Publishing, on behalf of My Cubby – who would love to get kids back outdoors into happy, healthy play!