School. Soccer practice. Homework. Dinner. Piano Recital. Bed. Repeat.
Does some variation of this sound all too familiar? Intentionally or unintentionally, our Generation Z kids are enduring heavy schedules filled with highly scripted activities. This leaves little (if any) downtime for unstructured play, learning, or even boredom — all of which experts suggest are crucial to healthy development. In fact, according to author Dr. Tim Elmore in Generation Z Unfiltered and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), when our kids are heavily scheduled they are more prone to higher levels of anxiety and stress, decreased motivation, lowered sense of responsibility, and decreased problem solving and decision-making skills.
As alarming as this is, it’s easy to feel trapped as a parent. You want to provide the best for your child and set them up for success. It seems like every family you know is going through the same thing, and the fact is, you’re right. Over-scheduling and highly structured activities have become the norm.
Unstructured play, essential to healthy child development, is disappearing from the American landscape. Children still play, but today many of them engage in activities structured by a screen, designed to teach skills of some sort, or organized with rules and limits overseen by adults. The days of children making up their own games and activities with kids in the neighborhood are waning. Even if they wanted to do this, fewer opportunities exist.
Play is important for developing curiosity, creativity, and imagination. According to Dr. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, “These abilities are like muscles. If you don’t use them, you lose them.” Many of today’s toys are programmed to solicit a specific response or reaction from a child, limiting their creativity and imagination. Toys with multiple uses, e.g., blocks, Legos, etc. are good options because children use them in a variety of ways.
Children who are encouraged to engage in unscripted, free play will often experience higher levels of self-confidence upon learning they can come up with creative solutions and ideas on their own. Many children today have schedules that are very structured from morning to night. While that has some value, it takes away from other opportunities for problem solving.
So, what can you do to encourage creativity in your kids? It might seem counter intuitive but try regularly scheduling blocks of free time for your kids. Let them explore, let them dream, let them play. Consider the following six tips from The Power of Play:
- Support and encourage your child’s own self-initiated play activities.
- Join your child in his or her play. Try to follow your child’s lead, rather than telling them what to do!
- Take care in choosing your child’s toys, looking for things that encourage more open-ended play, rather than those that have a specific pre-defined purpose. Examples from the AAP include wooden spoons, blocks, balls, puzzles, crayons, boxes, and simple available household objects.
- Encourage dramatic play, especially with preschoolers. Dramatic or pretend play is where kids assume roles from the real world and fictional lands alike. Go with it!
- Read to your child to stimulate imagination and support healthy language learning. Check out this episode of the Good Dads Podcast for books that will help enhance creativity in kids.
- Play games with rules with your school-age child to help them learn social skills, develop strategies, take risks, and learn skills of observation and evaluation.
Who knew something so fun could be so important to your child’s immediate and long-term success? Not only that, but we haven’t even covered the added benefit when you get to join in the fun, dad. The AAP’s study also recognized that parents who play with their children experience a childlike joy, decreased stress and a stronger bond with their children.
Block out some time for your child to play today.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Creative Books podcast where we discover ways we as dads can help foster a sense of creativity in our Generation Z kids, as well as why it matters to their future success.
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