Free play!

Free play!

Baby Steps

Monday, January 18, 2021

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DURING the coronavirus pandemic, many children have not been able to play with their friends and classmates — something that is critical to their development, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says. But while it is important for children to interact with their peers, there are benefits to playing independently, too.

UNICEF says free play is when children have full freedom to play in whatever way they want. During free play time, children can express themselves in the way that they choose depending on the day, time and situation they are in.

When a child is playing alone, they are engaging themselves and using their imagination. Free play is also important for learning problem-solving skills. Parents should encourage toddlers and preschoolers to engage in free play on a regular basis, but with continued supervision it can even be introduced to babies as young as six months old, UNICEF says.

Here are some tips from UNICEF for encouraging free play at home.

1. Make sure your child has a safe space to play in

When playing freely, children should have the chance to explore and do most things on their own to build confidence and independence. However, it is important to make sure that your child has a safe environment to do this in. Clear play areas of any potential hazards and check in throughout playtime to make sure your little one is playing safely.

2. Listen to your child

Ask your child, “What do you want to do today?” Based on how they respond, help create an environment where they can explore their interest. For example, if they want to build a house, you can give support by providing materials and a safe space to work. Think about the materials your child would need and then look around your home to see what is available. Don't be afraid to get creative. For example, if your child wants to do a puzzle and you don't have one at home, use a picture or a calendar and cut it into pieces for them to put together.

3. Give some clues and prompts along the way

When your child faces a problem, you can help guide them toward a solution by asking, “What do you want to do? How can we solve this problem?”

4. Make it a bonding activity

Just because your child is playing on their own doesn't mean you can't be engaged. If your child wants to play with you while you are busy working, try talking with them about something they can do on their own, and then when they are done you can look over it together. By taking this approach, you can help engage your child in different activities where they can play independently.

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