Child development and upbringing have drastically changed over the years and now our modern society is pressurized to provide time to a child to play. Something that was very natural has been highly structured. Google is bombarded with information on how to play with a newborn, a 1year old, a two-year-old and so on. There are ideas of play to improve gross and fine motor skills, to develop planning, to develop social interaction. We adults read this and try to implement this on our child. An adult teaching a child to play, does this sound sensible? Who is the authority on the play? A three-year-old or a 30-year-old?
The child is unbiased by experience, and when it comes to playing, a child is the authority on it is a realization that is very important for us parents to make. Play should never be structured, but it should be child led. The child-led play is to truly respect the child’s thoughts; giving a child space to think and act freely without boundaries.
Let me give you a simple example of child-led play which most kids would do unless we stop them. When a two or three-year-old wants to drink water, she would never want to drink it out of a glass. She would probably use a spoon or spill the water or a plate and lick imitate a dog she is fond of.
This way of drinking water might not be something we are used to. It might look even weird to someone watching it. But truly respecting his thoughts and letting her do those things would be what we would call child led. It is child-led because it is the child who is in control of her thoughts and is responding to it with actions of her own.
Play need not have a goal or outcome. Just trying something is play. Doing nothing if the child does not want to play. Lying down under a blanket is play. Sitting in a box is play. Tearing paper is play. Spilling water is play.
What happens if you don’t allow child-led play?
We would have a child who gives up easily. Why? Because we have never let him experience the joy of achieving something himself, the power of intrinsic motivation. A child who will not have any ideas of his own. Why?Because he was never allowed to explore and figure out that there are 10 different ways to approach something. A child who will not be confident to face any difficulties and who cannot accept failure.Why? Because he was never allowed to fail and try, lose, try again and succeed.A child who will not know true joy, the joy of doing something with his own two hands. Why? Because when a child to taught how to play he is not thinking on his own but merely following instructions and will never know what it has to the joy of thinking and doing something on his own. A child who would not know that it’s okay not to have all the answers and solutions. Why? Because he was not allowed to try and fail and understand that we don’t need to win always.A child who has not had ample encounters with disappointments and who will not be able to handle real life disappointments.Why?Because he was not allowed a first hand to experience different outcomes of the decisions he made by himself and then face it himself. A child who wouldn’t understand patience and perseverance. Why? Because he was never given the opportunity to find out that if we are patient to try enough and do something consistently, we can obtain the desired outcome. A child who wouldn’t understand others emotions. Why? Because he was always told how to behave and do things and not allowed to feel his own emotions and react accordingly. Mainly, we would have a child who would not be confident to make decisions and be the driver of his life.Why? Because he was never allowed opportunities to understand how he can steer his play to come up with outcomes.
I write so strongly the importance of child-led play because I have seen drastic changes in both my typical five years old and special eight-year-old when I allowed them to play without me planning it for them, and me instructing them how to play. I have to warn that this is not an overnight process; it would take a few months for the child to understand and realize that he is free to play when we adults made this change.
When I allowed child-led play, my kids started approaching play areas in a very different way. They were no longer afraid to try new things and didn’t feel that they needed my permission to approach different play areas and take risks. Here is a video clip of how my
daughter tried hard to pull the rope and didn’t give up or ask for my help.
Here is a clip of both my kids happily spending about 15-20 minutes at the sand area with all play ideas of their own which previously they spent roughly 2-3 minutes.
Here is a clip of both of them deciding to play how they want to play with each other.
The child-led play is more powerful and important than we imagine it to be. Children learn the deeper emotions of life through only this. They are able to create happiness for themselves and will never be in the need of someone else to create it for them. What more could you ask for?