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The Importance of Free Time for Children

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Mar 18, 2015

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Parents always strive to give their children the best. But as awareness grows around the importance of early childhood education and how it can give kids an early boost, there’s one thing parents aren’t giving kids enough of: free time. Parents are booking more and more activities for kids at an earlier age. But the importance of free time for children lies precisely in putting the onus of entertainment on them — and it’s critical to children’s development.

What does free time for children look like?

Giving a child time to play by herself, with no guidance, develops different abilities at different ages. This doesn’t necessarily mean the child plays unsupervised, especially when very young. But rather, free time activities aren’t clear-cut and waiting for the child to play or join. For young children, this is an opportunity to learn self-sufficiency and self-regulation: While they may prefer to be entertained, unstructured free time for children gives them a chance to work through the refusal of instant gratification, find a different activity, and learn how to handle their emotions appropriately.

Free time for children on the cusp of preteen-hood is when creativity soars. There’s a freedom in creating something from nothing—deciding how to play, and with what, with no guidance. In many ways, it’s a bigger achievement than simply following what’s been set up for their entertainment. Kids will often find new and different ways to play with their toys and invent stories at this age, when given the time.

Free time for kids of an older age gives them the opportunity for independence and self-reflection. They discover and pursue their passions, and often will share them with you and others.

Is free time for children really free?

Free time doesn’t necessarily mean anything goes—after all, this is in part about teaching a child to keep herself occupied. Free time activities can be planned, but the plan must come from your child. Small children may not be able, initially, to plan for themselves, so giving them options assists them, while still giving them the power to make decisions. Say, “You need to play by yourself for a little bit. Would you like to play with your cars, or with the dress-up clothes?”

As your child grows, instead of listing free time activities for kids as options, ask questions that help your child arrive at the plan himself. Questions like, “What would you like to do?” “What can you do at this location?” “Do you want to play inside or outside?” help the child to zero in on a play plan.

But remember, when children are in charge of how they play, there may be mistakes. Your daughter may only manage it for 10 minutes of the 30 you allotted for her, and you may need to engage multiple times as she learns to keep herself occupied.

What does free time for children mean for you?

If a healthily developing child isn’t enough, a few precious minutes of extra sleep, alone or adult time might convince you to curb the structured activities and value free time for kids!

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Written By Ashwini Vaishampayan

Ashwini Vaishampayan is a practicing pediatric Occupational Therapist for more than 20 years. After working with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in various teaching and clinical positions for 15 years, she took a break to complete her Occupational Therapy Doctorate from the University of Southern California in 2010. Ashwini continued her pediatric practise with Therapy West in Los Angeles for 4 years before returning to Mumbai. Ashwini has worked with developmental disabilities more specifically autism throughout her professional career in India as well as the USA working in different contexts such as home, clinic, and schools.
She is currently working with Ummeed Child Development Center as a Senior Program Manager Early Childhood Development and Disability designing, implementing and monitoring short term training programs towards monitoring early childhood development and early identification of delays.

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