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ID-10042776Is your child over-structured? Think about your child's day. Is there any free time or do the scheduled activities keep him pretty busy from wake up to bedtime?

If there is free time, how does your child choose to spend her time?

Recently we had the opportunity to observe families for several hours while serving as greeters during an outdoor 4th of July celebration for our church. In between downpours, there was a pretty steady stream of rain. We were amazed at how many hearty folks were milling about among vendors, rides for children, a small petting zoo, pony rides, and an insanely tall inflatable water slide in spite of the weather.

While there were planned things to entertain children, many were content to play in the puddles created by the downpours and dig in the mulch in the gardens.

That got us to thinking about children and how they play and what happens to a child's brain when they are allowed to explore the world around them and relationships with peers.

What if for at least one day each week (to start) you opened up three hours of unstructured time? Three hours of no computers, tv, cell phones, hand held devices of any kind.

What if you provided books, clay or play dough, a back yard, a baby pool of rice or sand, a paint brush and a bucket of water and a sidewalk to paint with water, some sidewalk chalk, paper-scissors-glue-paint-glitter, a box of simple musical instruments, a jigsaw puzzle, a notebook and a pen, a sketch pad and some pencils or any other opportunity to explore with hands, ears, eyes, and feet.

Maybe you could take a walk around the neighborhood and point out different kinds of plants or grasses or flowers. Teach your children to lay down on the ground and find shapes in the clouds. Provide outdoor game supplies and let the children create their own ways to play with them.

Of course we always want to be ready to intervene if needed, but we encourage you to stand back and watch your children play with their siblings, or peers, or explore the environment alone.

We want our children to develop flexibility. If everything is highly structured, they may have a difficult time going with the flow and riding with the tide in real life situations now and as adults. We all know there are many moments as an adult when we have to abandon plan A and deal with what comes. We want our children to easily adapt to situations around them in a positive and healthy way.

Unstructured play teaches children how to solve problems that come up among themselves. It helps them to share ideas and toys and being the leader and the follower.

Julie distinctly remembers as a little girl having a big bag of dress up clothes. "My best friend and I would take ourselves off to play away from our brothers and sisters. So many times we had to learn how to love each other and give in a little because we both wanted to wear the same outfit, or be the one in charge all the time. We learned how to give and take, consider each others feelings, and be okay with a new plan."

Children receive so many developmental benefits when they are allowed time to play without adults telling them every minute what to do.

How will you encourage your child to play today?

Much love,
Tom and Julie

P.S. Do you need help teaching your complex child how to play? We can help!
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