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.

image

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?

image

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.

image

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.

image

*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.

Marvellous Mondays badge by Hello Archie
Advice From The Heart

Playing in the Rain

image

Well the weather is officially on the turn. It’s getting colder, especially first thing in the morning, and we’ve had a few rainy days.

But this isn’t going to stop us from getting out. Especially now Tom is walking and so is no longer having to crawl his way through wet grass.

I thought I was going to have to look into some barefoot shoes for him (are barefoot wellies a thing? Must check…) but fortunately found a pair of these ‘rain footies’ on eBay. They are essentially plastic bags that attach with some elastic round the ankles. It’ll be a long time before he grows out of them, but he still seems able to walk ok. Waterproof trousers are definitely next on the wishlist.

image

We’ve enjoyed pottering around the cat litter box garden, investigating the local wildlife.

image

And the play area of the park is completely abandoned when it’s wet, giving Tom a chance to play without getting trampled by bigger kids.

image

image

All in all, wet weather is no reason to stay inside. We love playing in the rain!

Monkey and Mouse

 

Why Do We Bother?

image

I think by now most people know the benefits of getting our kids playing outside. All those great things about tackling obesity, supporting mental health, and developing a love of nature that (hopefully) will lead to more environmentally conscious future adults.

All those things are great. They are worth making time for. And they all have an influence on my decision to make this pledge to get out with Tom every day. But they aren’t the whole reason, or even the most important reason.

The most important reason I make such an effort to spend time with Tom outside? It’s very simple. It makes me happy. And it seems to make Tom happy too.

image

Although this blog may feature Weekly Reports and refer to the pledge I made as a challenge, at the end of the day, I don’t do any of these things to tick some ‘worthy parent’ box or because I feel like I have to do them to bring up Tom ‘properly’. I do them because, even on the days when I don’t initially want to leave the house, I have a great time.

What better reason is there to get outdoors?

image
Also, look! He can walk!!

Outdoors in East London with a Toddler: Millfields Park

One of my favourite day-to-day walks is a loop that takes us over the Marshes, under Lea Bridge Road, and across the canal to Millfields Park. We almost always stop in the park to let Tom have some time to play and explore.

image

It’s a good, wide open space, split into three by Lea Bridge Road and Chatsworth Road. As well as tennis courts, a cricket pitch and an athletics track, it has a children’s play area in one corner and wooden gym equipment (pull up bars, balancing bars etc) scattered around. One end is bordered by a canal, which you can follow on to nearby Springfield Park.

We rarely use the play area, which is aimed at older kids than Tom, but the open space, with gentle slopes and the occasional tree, is perfect for crawlers/newly toddling toddlers. It’s also the site for Clapton’s new forest kindergarten, Free Range Urban Kids. Sadly they don’t seem to be accepting children as young as Tom, but I’m keeping an eye on their plans to see if it might be an option for us in a couple of years.

image

Weekly Report: Much Improved

Things are (finally) back to normal in the Wildling household. The week commencing 12 October was the first time in five weeks that I actually did my usual part time work. No courses, no jury service. What a relief!

Here’s how the week went:

Monday – I had an appointment in the morning, then Tom had his one year development review after lunch. Mr Techno came along too, so we stopped off in the park for some family playtime afterwards.

image

Wednesday – the day started sunny, so Tom and I headed to the (oddly abandoned) playground. He pottered around happily, whilst I watched from a nearby vantage point. We went for a walk in the afternoon, stopping off on the Marshes for Tom to have an explore. At which point it started chucking it down. We were miles from home, so all we could do was stay to enjoy it (and be glad of our waterproofs…)

image

Thursday – a work day, so our usual walk in through the park/afternoon play in the park routine applied.

Friday – as above

Saturday – we went on our bear (crab) hunt! Read all about it here

image

Sunday – my poor little Wildling had picked up a cold at nursery (as he does every other week) and was feeling a bit under the weather, so we kept it low key. We went for a walk in the sling in the morning, then ran some errands in the afternoon.

image

It’s been lovely getting back to our normal routine. I’ve missed having a bit of extra time to find more imaginative ways to enjoy the outdoors. Verdict: much improved!

image