As the recent school holidays drew near, I started planning activities and outings – but then I stopped. I realised that what Little Eco needed most was free time. She’s only in her first year of school – but already I feel that the business that accompanies school and after-school activities leaves little time for play. I kept organised activities to a minimum and watched as she remembered how to play.
Unstructured play, the kind of play that happens without adult guidance, is worth encouraging. Research has shown that unstructured play helps children develop their creativity, imagination, and physical and emotional strength.
Unstructured play among children is particularly valuable for teaching them how to share, negotiate, communicate and resolve conflicts. I invited her friends over to play and sat back and watched the children create their own world – usually involving a good dose of mud.
Natural environments are particularly good for unstructured play. Natural objects such as sticks, stones, dirt, leaves, mud and water lend themselves to exploration and creation and can be used in a multitude of ways. Mud pie picnics and fairy gardens made of sticks and flowers are common at our place.
I particularly love that nature provides a place seemingly separate from the adult world. Natural spaces can give children a much-needed sense of freedom - even if only in the backyard within the gaze of mum. It may only be a tree, a puddle, or a gap under a shrub to us, but to a child it’s their own secret space, somewhere where they rule – if only for just a moment.
Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 12th October 2013.