Kids are born curious and highly motivated to learn about and explore their world. Once we understand that they are inherently active learners, we can accept the importance of self-directed play in our children’s lives – and do all we can to support it.
I think it is hard to over-emphasize the importance of self-directed play in children’s lives. When we think about how kids spend their time, we tend not to differentiate activities like organized sports, visits to amusement parks, or watching movies from play. But there is a huge difference, as this article in Child’s Play Magazine by Laura Grace Weldon points out so well.
Real play is self-directed play, and that means it is self-organized. It is an active, hands-on activity that the child controls. It is also spontaneous. Organized sports, although we think of them as play, are activities that are planned and controlled by someone else – usually an adult.
Being entertained, by going to amusement parks, for instance, is a passive activity rather than being self-directed play. Even if it is fun and involves some participation, entertainment is usually provided by adults for children. (When children create a play or musical presentation or computer game for other children or adults, of their own accord, it becomes play!)
Self-directed play is educational, teaches children to entertain themselves, nurtures creativity, and develops imagination. On the other hand, while rollercoasters and cartoons and even most playground equipment can be fun, they are based on someone else’s ideas and activities, not the child’s, and can contribute to habits of passivity and boredom.
The world is a child’s playground and the provider of a rich education. Helping kids explore the world and its wonders is our job as parents, educators, and play professionals. And it’s been my mission, and that of my company Life Media, for close to forty years now. I hope you will check out our magazines for ideas and insights about self-directed play and self-directed learning…and have some fun with your kids along the way!