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Children Running Wild: The Importance of Free Play

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By Rachel Derry
Staff Writer LIFamilies

In a world filled with fear, parents have to make the tough decisions; what schools to use, what babysitters to trust, even what products and foods are safe enough. With so much on their plates, parents are also ruling on another area of their children's lives; whether or not they can go out and play.

Let's face it; today's children don't have it like we did. We were sent outside until the dinner bell rang! We ran freely through the block, and we had all the neighborhood kids out there with us. This style of play is considered free play.
In free play everything is child run and ruled. The children make up their own rules to follow and coach their peers in following along. Through free play children are able to learn problem solving skills, self-control, and how to make decisions. Children who do not want to follow the rules or have too many emotional outbursts learn quickly to control their emotions and follow rules to get to stay with their friends. All in all, children learn important skills for life and stay in good health.

In today's world, though, children are limited on free play, if they get any at all. Parents today set up boundaries to keep their children safe. They are only allowed outside supervised, or they aren't allowed to leave the yard. Many times, even if a parent gives their child a little more latitude, there isn't anyone for them to play with because the neighbors haven't.
Parents enroll their children in many organized sports today, instead. Adult run and ruled sports, although great for social and physical skills, do not allow children the same amount of mental development. When a child makes up the rules and then follows them, they are decision making and problem solving. In organized sports all they can do is follow.

Studies show that children who do not have the mental developments built in free play are more apt to show early signs of anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and narcissism. This is especially prevalent in boys, who need the outside free play as a chance to develop and build emotional relationships.

Experts say to remember that childhood is a special time that only happens once. Try to set up a neighborhood watch system. Take turns, when available, to let all the neighborhood children get together (maybe in one yard or another) to run free and have play time. Set up get-togethers in local parks and play areas to give children play, while all the parents feel.

In a world of accidents and abductions it is not hysteria to watch your children closely and to want them near you at all times. By not allowing children free playtime and the chance to get outside and run, however, is denying them the ability to develop, learn, and live as children.

The best way to keep them healthy, happy, and safe is to meet them somewhere in the middle.

Long Island Family Life & Parenting Articles > Children Running Wild: The Importance of Free Play

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