Jamie is Jamie
This week we are beginning a new podcast series about the importance of unstructured playtime, with Afsaneh Moradian, author of the upcoming book Jamie is Jamie.
Unstructured play means kids get to do whatever they want to do, inside or outside, using what is available to them. The main thing is that they are choosing what to do. It is not about an adult offering ideas and suggestions, but the child looks around to see what’s available and chooses what to do.
Maybe they will make up some play based on something they saw on tv or in a movie – this requires them to remember what they have seen enough to repeat it on their own and come up with creative ways to do that. That’s an incredibly valuable process.
We often think we need to buy things or go places to enrich our kids’ days, and don’t place as much importance on unstructured playtime. But children need time to play without outside direction. It’s not about spending money at all, but rather about giving kids the space and the time to make their own ideas come to life.
“Play is the work of childhood.” – Jean Piaget
Pre-K and Kindergarten used to be more of a sacred space focused on playing, exploring, and spending time with other kids.
Lately there has been an idea that pre-k is necessary to prep kids so they can sit at a desk longer and do more work in kindergarten, learn to read earlier and increase their academic production. Pre-Ks are even selling ideas about teaching foreign languages and really prepping children to be an academic student before they are even in Kindergarten.
Play isn’t just a fun little thing that kids do – it is fun – but it’s also the way they learn and the way they take in information. Kids are very serious about their play and it’s important to respect that whatever they are working on is truly important to them.
Step out of the way
It seems so simple to just “let your kids play” but sometimes we adults can be less than enthusiastic about their ideas. If you don’t like what they are wanting to do, try to find a way to give them some space, get materials that are ok for the kids to do whatever they want with, and be open-minded. Window markers can be used on glass, nontoxic body markers can be used on skin, etc. Try to remove yourself as the authority always stopping them from having fun and always saying no.
Unstructured play can be a little messy, which can be challenging to us as adults. Maybe we can negotiate how many days the “mess” can remain, or find a way to let them keep their creations set up beyond the time that we decide we want it cleaned up. It can be helpful to have materials available, with a place they know they can get it and put it back away when they are finished.
“Unstructured” playing may mean using the pieces that go to a game in a different way, unrelated to that game’s rules. Toys that are “supposed” to be used in a certain way can become many other things, if we adults can step out of the way and let them use their creativity and play however they want (provided they are being safe and not destructive).
Physical development really spurs cognitive development, so big body movements are really important for kids: playing outside, climbing, running, etc. Challenging themselves physically and learning to navigate risks helps to give them more confidence in general.
No more boredom
Boredom is a cry of the need for free play. Once you let a kid play whatever they want to play, boredom can no longer exist. We need to be ok being alone, and providing time for our kids to play on their own can help them to learn how to handle time by themselves.
Through playing on their own, kids learn who they really are and then they bring that with them when they are in social situations. They know who they are and can think for themselves. If we are always doing the thinking, not really giving them a chance to think for themselves while they are little, how can we expect them to think for themselves when they are older?
Join them in their world
In addition to encouraging them to play on their own, we can look for opportunities to join our children in their play. The child can lead and we can join them in their world. It can be challenging for adults to play since we have been out of that world for so long, but if we just start, we can often find our way again. We can spend some really wonderful time together laughing and having fun.
Play can be such a great teaching tool – we can do role-play with a role reversal and act like our kids, then see how they respond to us as the parent. This can open the door to talking about a problem we are having so we can solve it together. We can also find out what our children really think about things, or discover social issues they are experiencing. Play can encourage our kids to do some unconscious self-reflection.
Next week we’ll talk more about helping our kids to work out their own problems without us, as parents, jumping in to take over. See you then!
Afsaneh Moradian has been an educator for more than 15 years. She has worked with students of all ages from preschool to graduate school. Afsaneh is a doctoral candidate in education, author of the upcoming book, “Jamie is Jamie” by Free Spirit Publishing, and proud mom of a 5 year old.
Facebook: Afsaneh Moradian