T’is the Season for Play!

School’s out for the next two weeks. Are you ready? While the holiday season can be a particularly busy time for many families, it is actually very beneficial for your children to get out of their day-to-day routines.

Early wake-ups, homework and after-school activities can create a hectic life for many families so the chance to unwind and let loose gives children different opportunities for developing their social skills, language abilities and even brain development.

Benefits of Unstructured Play

Play provides children with a fun and natural way of problem-solving and engaging their curiosity. In fact, ‘Unstructured’ play is one of the best ways of having children learn to make their own decisions and focus their attention for an extended period of time.

While it can be tempting to take the kids to different attractions and theme parks around Dubai, this should really be balanced with time for kids to simply play on their own.  Give your child a chance to ‘get bored’ so that they’ll get motivated to find something fun and engaging to do with simple toys or materials they find around the house. Playing with creative toys like, Lego, making forts with chairs and blankets or even arts and crafts provide high-value, time-well-spent for children. If they are playing with a friend or sibling, this also offers them a wonderful opportunity to negotiate, take-turns and build up their social and language skills.

When adults become too involved in directing childrens’ play, it takes away from the child’s ability to make decisions, plan their independent activities and carry out those plans. Play is a child’s ‘work’ so it should be given a great deal of priority within their day.

As much as possible, give children a block of time each day to play. For those who may not be used to playing ‘on their own,’ it might be a good idea to:

  • Turn off the TV and other technological devices to avoid distractions
  • Sit with them initially to get them interested in one activity, then once they are engaged, allow them to continue playing on their own
  • Give them a specific amount of time (e.g. depending on their age-20/30/60 mins) where they should be expected to play on their own or with a sibling,  and then allow them to later have a more preferred activity such as a video game or iPad, for example

Children who regularly engage in unstructured play will also feel the benefits of pleasure and relaxation, both of which create the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the body. These chemicals promote well-being and can also naturally reinforce the likelihood that the child will seek out more opportunities for play in the future.

From a parent’s perspective, a child who is happy, having fun and able to direct their own activities is less likely to seek out attention and constant interaction from them. This can even mean a little more free time for you, so it’s a sure win-win.

Alison Schofield is an educational consultant for SchoolsDXB but she is also a child development specialist, teacher and author.