Our laneway was too quiet for a Sunday afternoon. No bikes, skateboards, soccer balls or their owners in sight. As I approached the driveway a voice came from above: “Mum’s home.” I looked up and there they were playing on the roof.
Before I could scream their names and ask them to come down, I had a flashback to the 80s when I too was in the roof of the neighbour’s house, getting my volley ball back. To get there, I had to climb the back wall of our apartment block which was a bit higher than the neighbour’s roof, then jump down to the roof clearing a meter long divide that separated the buildings. Looking down, I knew the fall could do a lot of damage but I still crossed to the other side. I don’t know if my parents knew what I was up to, but I don’t think they would have been too concerned.
As I pictured my roof climbing adventures I reached for my phone and recorded that moment for posterity. Children in the 21st century still have fun climbing fences, trees, and roofs. If only we let them. But most times we make sure they are safely indoors (and this often involves a screen) or engaged in after school activities.
We do this because we are good parents. There is danger outside and we have to prepare our children for a very competitive market place – there is no time to muck around with their education or safety. But the reality is, child abduction in the streets is rare and if we pay less attention to the media and do our own homework, we will see that by over scheduling our kids’ lives, natural fun and spontaneity get squeezed out. I think parents are equally so busy that they don’t even realise that these essentials are being stripped from their children’s everyday life.
I recently came across this research about the role of free play, day dreaming and independent discovery in building emotional maturity, developing cognitive skills, and boost physical health in children. The research reveals a link between unstructured activities and the development of executive function.
Executive function is an umbrella term for mental skills that help us control our attention, impulses and enable us to plan. These skills have long been accepted as a powerful predictor of academic performance and other lifelong benefits such as health and wealth.
My boys are always complaining that they don’t have enough free time and like most parents I don’t always have the courage-energy-time to let my kids just muck around and be kids. But here are a few things that I’m doing to create more opportunities for free play:
- I’m encouraging my kids to do their homework in the morning before school so they have time to play when we get home
- Friday and weekends they can play outside until dinner time (sometimes I end up having dinner before them)
- They can ride their bikes and take the dog for a walk in the neighbourhood without supervision
- No tablets or eleconics at night so they can read, write, draw or play
Free play, however, has a boundary – they are not allowed to go on the roof. After that incident, I explained why I didn’t want them up there and it looks like their are using their executive function, I haven’t seen them up there since then 🙂