Free Play: A work in progress

The government have recently published a report on play in childhood, which is a great indication of the growing understanding of the value of play for development and well being. I’m also taking part in a FutureLearn course on play, so its a topic very much on my mind lately.

Experts agree that for young children, like Tom, the best play is free play: child-led, unstructured, no expected outcome. For the most part, this is the kind of play that comes naturally to our household. As parents, I’d say that one of Mr Techno and I’s strengths is our ability to let Tom explore freely, without interfering or imposing our own agenda.

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A major weakness though (of mine at least) is my inability to back off and let Tom handle social situations on his own. I’m a bit of an introvert and, as a first time patent, have yet to work out the finer points of playground etiquette. Is it ok to let my toddler poke younger babies? Should I interfere if he’s bugging an older kid?

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A lot of the time, I simply avoid the issue by spending time in wild areas with fewer kids. But I know that’s not a long-term approach. So we’ve been making more forays into the playground, where I’m falling back on the ‘less is more’ parenting philosophy and letting Tom handle social situations himself. I’m always watching attentively, just in case, but I’m getting better at holding back my natural inclination to interfere. As a result, Tom has recently played with children from (estimated) 2 years old to 10 years old, with no tears, injuries, or visible clashes*.And I’ve had a chance to realise that other parents have no more idea how to handle these interactions than I do.

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It’s something I still need to work on more. But every time I suppress my urge to grab Tom away from a situation, take a deep breath, and watch to see how he works it out, I am surprised by how well things go. He’s far more capable than I would ever have imagined. And I just need to learn to trust him.

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*I have no photos to share of these playtimes, as I don’t feel right putting pictures of other people’s kids online. You’ll have to settle for more photos of Tom engaged in some free play.

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16 thoughts on “Free Play: A work in progress

    1. Just read your post. Agreevwith every word. And am now quietly joyful that I’m not the only one! Still find it hard not to interfere when other parents are watching though – it sounds so simple but is actually really, really difficult! Hurray for educaring (and yes that makes me cringe too…)

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  1. This is a lovely post. I think we’ve all been there. I probably dive in more than I would like to because I’m self conscious about what other people think. Every now and again my son will go through a kissing phase and I feel awful hauling him off because my fear of other people’s reaction seems to be more important than teaching him affection is good. That being said affection with random people in soft play facilities isn’t that good so maybe it’s okay…..Thanks for linking #fromtheheart

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    1. That is exactly it. I am much more worried about what other parents think than what Tom/random other kids will do. Trying to be better. Though yes, maybe kissing strangers in the playground maybe not to be encouraged!

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  2. This is such an interesting post. I have never thought about approaching social play for my two year old daughter in this way. What would happen if I stood back a bit and let her explore and socialise as independently as you have let Tom? I suspect we’d probably have a very similar experience as you have. Really thought provoking and definitely something I want to explore more. Great post. Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays 🙂 Emily

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    1. It’s actually really hard for some reason – I think because I assume other parents will expect me to get involved and then I feel awkward about not meeting that expectation. But it seems to work! Thank you for hosting

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  3. I think you are absolutely right to let Tom figure things out for himself so long as no one is being hurt. Kids are much better socially than we realise from a young age. I take great pleasure in watching children staying here on the farm all play together with mixed ages all mucking in and older children naturally looking out for younger ones. It doesn’t always work out like this and sometimes a child needs more intervention but generally their social skills are wonderful to watch. If you get a chance please come and join me for Country Kids. It is a linky all about outdoor fun each week, I think you’ll enjoy it. Delighted to find you from #MarvMondays

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    1. He’s not beyond a bit of face grabbing, but I figure most of the time they can work it out themselves. I’ll definitely be joining you for Country Kids – thanks for the invite! Your farm looks lovely

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  4. So Cute! We are exactly the same, I don’t want my son terrorising other children but I also don’t want him to feel like he can’t get involved! I think everyone feels like this at some point. Tom is still at the extra cute point so he can probably get away with it! #MarvMondays

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