Have you listened to children playing together? Sometimes we get so caught up in scheduling organized activities for our children, we forget to let them do what comes naturally. Creative play has been proved time and again to be the best way for children to develop and learn. If you listen to children playing together, you’ll discover that they’re also learning social mores and how to interact with other people.
My boys are 5 and 7, so they’ve played together for as long as they both can remember. It cracks me up when they play with their action figures and do voice-overs, because they’re constantly scripting for each other. The scripts are complicated and really impressive, and they most often involve plot twists and turns that I recognize from our recent outings or conversations.
In their play scenarios, my kids build families and present them with conflict. They practice conflict resolution and demonstrate that they know how to share. They’re patient and employ a good deal of empathy, and I find myself very impressed with what they’ve picked up on, even when I think they’re not paying attention. (Like my tendency to yell at other drivers. Oops.)
Their cousins and school friends aren’t as quick to pick up on the play technique, so my boys adapt and spend lots more time running and pretending to be superheroes with other kids. But, the elements of socialization remain a big part of that play time. Each child adds his or her own personal touch to the script depending on interests. They might be superheroes, but when my older son adds his twist, they’re flying through space to a distant planet (he loves astronomy). My cousin’s oldest dresses as Batman and explains that he’s the leader because it’s his ship they’re flying in, and my younger son just has to chime in, “Pretend you think that I’m a bad guy, so you all try to get me, but I’m really just Wolverine and have a mean look on my face.”
What’s that? Don’t judge a book by its cover? I’m not sure I can take credit for that one, but maybe he learned it while he was playing. The bottom-line: unscripted play may feel simple and effortless to you, but can provide a world of social benefit to your kids. In other words, it’s okay to give yourself a break on all the play date planning and simply allow them to do what they do best.