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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