As parents, we all want to prepare our children to enter the world. The question is how to best do this.
Is it by filling their days with structure, sports and lessons? Or is there another way? I believe there is: open-ended play. While structure, sports and lessons do have value, without open-ended play, our children are missing out on a powerful source of learning.
I know a little something about play. With 10 children, ages three to 19, that’s a lot of years of play. It has been interesting to listen to my children as they make up games and create imaginary worlds. In their play, I hear them working out past problems and figuring out the adult world. I always felt that this was an important work of childhood, but to be sure I decided to talk to some experts on children.
Karen Wylie holds a Masters of Education as well as being a Golden Apple Fellow and she is passionate about play. She says that the benefits of open-ended play are great. Play builds self-regulation, self-esteem, creates a regard for others, helps to teach autonomy, helps to focus attention, builds trust and thinking skills, helps with delayed gratification and gives practice in advance planning.
Dr. Nancy Rivas, a clinical psychologist at the Meier Clinics, concurs. “Open-ended play allows children to explore, create and develop self-control and self-expression in ways that they could never learn in more structured settings,” Dr. Rivas says.
But what is open-ended play? It is the type of play that involves the imagination. It can incorporate toys (but no screens) and can be pursued either individually or with others, but the hallmark of this type of play is that it is child directed. The choice of what and how to play is the child’s. Adults can have input into the play, but the actual control belongs with the child.
Play creates joy and an interest in the world. It is these two things that enable a child to learn in a more formal setting, and after something is learned, it is play that cements the concepts and integrates them into the child’s world. I have had the opportunity to see this first hand as my children unconsciously add some new idea we just learned about into their play.
All this indicates that far from being a waste of time, play is hugely beneficial to our children. Play on!