This is a sponsored post in which I was compensated by the Genius of Play campaign to write about my own experiences as they relate to the topic of play. All opinions expressed are my own. If you have questions about your child’s development, please seek the advice of a medical professional.
Over the years bringing up three children I have learned so many lessons big and small. Every day is something new. Every time I think I get it I realize I may have missed it. It has helped me be more flexible, less judgmental, live in the moment, and become a better planner. One of the ways in which I never thought I would need help was unsupervised play. It has become one of my greatest challenges.
The site Genius of Play has a new video series that is asked parents some tough questions. This specific video touches on one way in which I really feel I may have “failed” my child:
When my daughter was little I was the very definition of a helicopter parent. In most ways, I think I still am. I felt like every second of the day had to be used toward growth and learning. I was all over her. Equal parts me being home all day with just her and I, and feeling I needed to “prove” myself by her mastery of creativity, kindness, and fine motor skills did not equate to a very independent child. I was constantly concerned that if left alone she would either be bored, unstimulated (and therefore not developing properly), or placed in harms way somehow because I was not watching. This meant that she was dependent on me for everything. Including playtime. As she got older I realized she simply could not play by herself. She needed me to play with her in order to play at all. It didn’t matter if it was on the playground, playing with dolls, or even doing a puzzle.
A lot of people fondly reminisce about when they were young and how they would spend hours playing with their neighborhood friends by themselves making up games and getting into mischief. For me, I did not grow up in the safest of environments. It is easy to look back and remember the positive in the situations. A lot of times kids do not see the dangers. Unfortunately I did and I remember. I was lucky that I managed to get out of most situations relatively unscathed, but many things that we did while unsupervised could have ended in tragedy. The only reason they didn’t, was luck. Having my own children, like many parents my age I vowed not to make those mistakes. I think that why we are criticized as generation parents who have become helicopter parents has a lot more to do with not understanding the fundamental difference between unsupervised play and unstructured play and how they can (and should) work together as well as separately.
Unsupervised play and unstructured play can go hand-in-hand, and they’re both important to proper development. Leaving a kid to figure out what to do in a scenario on their own is vital to problem-solving skills on every level of growth. Whether it is how to solve a puzzle, make up their own game, solve a dispute with a friend, or tackle a new challenge. Unstructured play is the fine art of playing without guidance. No rules, just creating challenges and adventures of their own initiative. It goes hand-in-hand with unsupervised play. Only when left alone can they truly develop the skill of unstructured play. It has been a concept that has taken me years to understand the significance of allowing. Because of my own fear I have not created the right environment for that part of development to happen.
As my second child got older I realized that he had an abundance of boy energy that I simply could not keep up with having two kids. Out of necessity he got more and more unstructured play time. Usually in a secured area in the playroom with toys that were appropriate for him (and a healthy dose of stolen toys from his sister). I began to notice the difference. That is when I started to notice that what my mom guilt made me think was me not paying enough attention was actually helping him rapidly become an amazingly imaginative child. I would listen to him play over the baby monitor and be in awe of the games and fun he created on his own.
Now that my third child is here I encourage it like crazy. I regularly separate the three kids and ask them to have alone time. My oldest prefers to read during that time. She has no interest in playing any games by herself. The other two jump at the chance to play by themselves. Maybe it is because they are boys. Maybe it is because they are numbers two and three of three kids and alone time is valued. Regardless, learning independent play is one of the best gifts you can give your children. However you can give it to them. My kids may not get to run free around the neighborhood and come home when the street lamps come on, but we do what we can and it is okay. They will be okay. I may have “failed” my daughter on this skill set, but we live and learn and I am sure she will be fine.
Check out some of the other videos in the series and see if they can spark you to think about The Genius of Play in a different way.