Reclaiming Free Play

New research is shedding light on the old practice of providing children with oodles of free play time. Boston College psychology professor and unschooling advocate, Peter Gray, has recently published two studies in the American Journal of Play, arguing that open-ended, unstructured, non-adult-driven play time for children has dramatically declined over the past several decades, and may be largely contributing to increasing rates of childhood depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. (Click here to watch a recent interview with Dr. Gray about his new research.)

So how do we reclaim free play time for our children? How do we ensure that their precious play time doesn't become consumed by organized activities and adult-led endeavors?

For our family, homeschooling offers the gift of abundant hours of outside, unstructured play time to create, imagine, discover, and dream. Yet, it is easy to be tempted by the vast quantity of enrichment activities available to us in the city that could easily consume free play time. We try to stay connected to our daily and weekly rhythms to make certain that unstructured time trumps structured time and that much of our day is spent outside.

It seems odd, in a way, that we parents would need to be vigilant about protecting our children's play time; time that in generations past was naturally protected and assumed as part of a child's day. But as the pace of the modern world accelerates, as stresses mount, commitments climb, and demands rise, reclaiming and simplifying childhood play seem to be increasingly important pursuits in preserving our children's health and well-being.