Free Play and Confidence

I was sitting in the children’s park, watching my child tumble over the various play equipment. I was also watching three 5-6 yrs old girls pretend-play a family-family game. That’s when I overheard the conversation between these girls’ mothers:

“I want to put her in a painting class”
“I want a handwriting class, you know any?”
“No I don’t, but yesterday I found out a good dance class, only problem is which day I take her to dance?
Yes, dance even I want, instead of wasting their time like this (pointing at the girls playing) at least dance will make her more confident.

But,What about Play?” I wanted to butt into their conversation. What about the confidence they are developing right now, absolutely free of cost.

It is surprising that more and more children are being forced into classes after classes, while according to all child development researchers in the last 150 years, free play will make a bigger difference in child’s own ability to think, to imagine, to make decisions, to learn and to develop confidence.

It’s a myth that just because I am “made to learn something” that will make me more confident. Unless I have the freedom to explore, to think, to express, to make decisions, to make mistakes, it’s unlikely that I will build confidence.

Three problems with manystructured classesare that invariably there are expectations (of performance), there are comparisons (between children and to a benchmark) and there is right and wrong. Each one of these is definitely non-conducive to building confidence.

This mis-approach stems possibly from a combination of unawareness, lack of time and some sense of self-inadequacy (which parents often try and fulfil through their children). Result – more children are attending structured classes at much lesser age then you can imagine.

Free play, in contrast,is amazingly effective in building confidence:

1. Free Playfocuses on thinking, structured learning focuses on knowledge. Allow your child to build his own experiments, do his own cause-effect analysis, and develop his own mental models.

2. Since free play does not have any expectations, it isstress-free. A whole lot of us actually lose confidence under the pressure of performance is there. See if you can start the children off without an expression of expectation.

3. Free Play isinternally motivatedcompared to structured learning which is typically driven externally. Since children have unlimited internal resources, active inside-out play is very empowering. Ensure that with freesocial play, your child also gets freeself-play. Both have specific benefits.

4. Free playdevelops decision makingwhile in structured play most decisions are either pre-made (that’s the structure part) or the teacher makes (that’s the teaching part). Since decision making is so vital in developing confidence, allow as much of child making decisions in your playtime with the child.

5. In free play,there is no right or wrong. This to me is the biggest reason why I propagate free play as an integral part of confidence development. Simply put, will you thrive in an environment where your mistakes are constantly highlighted? In spite of this realization, most adults, when with children, are constantly correcting them – especially in a class, where the adult has an additional responsibility of making the child ‘learn’. See if you can leave your judgment at home when you go out to play with your child.

So our recommendation – Cut out the judgment; let the child just play ( if possible join them, have fun and burn calories for free!)
Play not just with games and toys, but play with knowledge, with concepts, with skills, with images, with emotions, with the views of the world.
Who needs motivation, who needs confidence, when one got play.