A new study by Gallup (funded by toy company Melissa and Doug) has found that though today’s parents would like to see their kids get outside to play more, there is little encouragement for unstructured child-led free play indoors.
The study surveyed 1,271 parents and caregivers of children ten years old and younger living in the United States (some survey questions used only the results of those with children from two to ten years old). Through the study’s questions, researchers realized today’s parents may not be aware of the benefits of child-led free play. Instead, parents reported higher preferences for their children to participate in organized sports, structured activities, and educational activities. In fact, the only activities parents rated as less preferred was time on electronic devices and watching media. However, according to the survey, children were still spending more time with screens than participating in unstructured play indoors.
The parents/caregivers surveyed also showed a preference of restricting boredom. Only 21 percent of parents strongly agreed that it’s good for their children to be bored now and then. When their children are bored, only 33 percent of parents reported that they let their children find their own solution to boredom, while the others either talk them through activity options, stop what they’re doing to play with them, allow them screen time, or set them up with an activity to keep them busy.
Why Free Play is Important
These findings are troubling, as unstructured play and boredom can help develop skills in creativity and problem-solving. The Gallup study concluded, “Many parents may not recognize the positive role that unstructured, child-led play can have on their children’s development, despite the scientific research linking this type of play to the development of problem-solving skills, social cooperation, resiliency, and creativity.”
In response to the study, Education Week spoke with a play researcher at Temple University, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, who emphasized that unstructured play is needed. Unstructured play develops the same skills as structured play, but in different ways. Parents in the study associated structured play with creativity and problem-solving skills, but reported that social and academic skills were more important. Hirsh-Pasek reminded Education Week readers that the job market is placing more value on those with creative and problem-solving skills, so though parents may not find it as important now, it can affect children’s futures.
Play at Fairmont
Incorporating play in the school day is important at Fairmont Private Schools, especially for our younger students. Fairmont Private Schools’ Director of Early Childhood Education, Kristen Jansen, had this to say about the importance of play and how it is incorporated into the school day:
Find Time for Free Play
It’s imperative that parents find time for their children to participate in unstructured play. It may seem silly, but, in today’s busy always on-the-go schedule, it’s important for children to still find time to grow the skills unstructured play promotes.
We all want our children to be successful and it’s actually key to their success to enjoy play without a purpose. Take a moment to go over your kids’ busy schedules filled with school, after school curricular activities, sports practices and games, music lessons, and more. Find a time once a week where your kids can have time to play outside (or inside) without screens. Find time for their imaginations and creativity to run wild.