Aside from the fact that it gives me time to do my own work, the benefits of my children undertaking self-directed play are enormous. As I home school my children, we spend nearly all day, every day together and whilst I love spending time with them, I would struggle if I had to keep them constantly occupied each day. It is in this regard that I am thankful that my two girls have the ability, imagination, inspiration and motivation to occupy themselves and play together.
As we come into winter their ability to undertake self-directed play will become more important. We live in an area where winters are long, wet and very cold. Outdoor play is often short-lived or not achievable at all for days on end. Indoor play is often our only choice to keep our kids active and thankfully electronic devices are not high on their entertainment list.
Importance of self-directed play
Self-directed play is extremely important to a child’s development. It involves a child using their imagination and creativity. Children learn to share ideas, improve their communication skills and above all in our instance has provided wonderful bonding opportunities between my two girls.
The most common theme in my children’s self-directed play involves fairies or princesses. Any number of stuffed animals or dolls are transformed into characters with beautiful dresses or wings. Story lines are invented. Families are made with mothers and fathers, children and friends. Businesses are opened, items are offered for sale and home made money is drawn and cut out. The story lines are varied and every part of it comes from the use of their imagination.
All sorts of buildings, shelters or abstract constructions appear in our lounge room during my children’s self-directed learning. I’m often forced just to look past the utter mess that is appearing and remind myself that through this chaos my kids have created their own play world and are occupying themselves. Kitchen chairs, stools, blankets, cushions – any numbers of different household items are used to construct their magical world. Whilst in my children’s younger years I would have been requested to help construct their world, my children are growing and are now learning to design and construct their own. They learn what works and what doesn’t when building their imaginative world. They also learn to deal with the frustration of failure when their construction collapses over them and the art of problem solving to rectify the issue.
Sharing ideas & listening to others
I won’t say that some days of self-directed play don’t involve arguing and sometimes even the occasional fight, but even when this is happening, my children are learning. Whilst in the past I would have dreaded to hear the screams of “MUM!!!!!” which were often proceeded by loud yells and sometimes tears, I find that I’m not always needed these days to settle disputes. As my children grow and develop they often settle their own disputes during play time. They are learning the art of listening to each other, and understanding the other persons point of view. I say learning as it’s not something they always master. There is no doubting that my eldest child will often dictate play, however my youngest is now learning to speak up and speak her mind. She is gaining the confidence to say what she wants to play without the fear that her thoughts may be rejected.
Self-directed play is a vital part of my children’s learning experience. It is often that my children are so absorbed in their self-directed play that hours can pass before they emerge from their magical world. Self-directed play doesn’t have to be indoors, there are plenty of opportunities for children to undertake the same outdoors. Parents should encourage self-directed play and if requested, participate with your child, but always allowing your child to take the lead.