Learning skills for life is not all about formal instruction, rote recall and dedicated study. Child psychologist Ian Wallace discusses how we can better use and appreciate playtime as a valuable tool for learning.
Formal techniques for learning include tutor-lead instruction, study and rote recall however many valuable skills can be learned through playtime.
Skills like creative thinking, problem solving, building sound reasoning skills and adapting to new situations are just a few examples of the kinds of things children can learn through unstructured play.
These creative, adaptive and problem-solving skills are greatly regarded in adulthood, equipping adults to deal with challenges beyond what they have been simply taught.
Often those who are most rewarded in the adult world are those who can think outside of the box; those who can use creative thinking to solve problems. These skills are first learnt in childhood, through creative playtime and games.
Kids naturally love playing, especially if we provide creative activities. Kids in the McDonald’s Champions of Play Index* were positive about play with 46 percent reporting that they are happiest when playing games. Conversely, only 28 percent reported being happiest just “hanging out”. This is a really positive result, suggesting that youngsters are not nearly as sedentary as they have often been portrayed. We just need to give them more opportunities.
The challenge for parents then is to provide opportunities for creative playtime to enable kids to discover, build, create and use their imaginations — and the payoff is large.
Kids who are provided with opportunities for unstructured, free play demand less stimulation from their parents. In simpler terms, they don’t demand parents be their full time entertainment director.
Unstructured play has been shown to instill resilience and a greater understanding of teamwork, because kids learn to persevere when things don't fit just right; they learn to make their own rules and come up with their own solutions.
Take, for example, the simple games of dress ups, a family performance or building a fort. In each of these games, kids must co-operate and be creative, and the more they do it, the better they become.
So before you rush to buy another round of fancy toys, stop and consider a bit of old-fashioned play. Piling up the cushions for a jumping zone or making a secret kid's tent can be educational as well as fun.
Ian Wallace's tips for unstructured play:
- Have a dress up trunk full of character costumes,
- Have a craft box full of creative materials including paints, papers and materials of different textures,
- In art: encourage creativity and free ideas, not perfect colouring,
- Permit use of household items in play, to build imaginative objects,
- Lead by example: engage in family fun play, not just structured games.
Ian Wallace is a child psychologist with a wealth of experience working with families and children. Ian highlights practical strategies for issues such as responsible parenting, building resilient kids, fathering and boys-to-men transition, dealing with defiant behaviour and bullying. His book, You and Your ADD Child (now in its 10th reprint) has become the practical handbook for Australian families and schools dealing with the everyday problems of ADD kids. He co-authored the popular book, Coping With School.
About McDonald's Champions of Play Index
* The McDonald's Champions of Play Index research was conducted online by Lonergan Research in May 2012 with a representative sample of 1,004 Australian children aged 6-14, and 1,004 Australian parents aged 18 years and over from across Australia, in both metropolitan and regional areas.