The day I learned that my children’s schools would close and that we would be learning at a distance from home, I created a schedule for our day to day. With two children and two adults (one of them working and the other from home), I could not allow total freedom for everyone. Without any structure, I knew we would all fall apart.
What I quickly realized is that my kids needed a lot more free time to play and a lot less blocks of time for school work and housework. Our first week of isolation was tough. Since we both still worked outside the home, we were forced to leave the children with the grandparents before everything started. Then the business closed and we managed to move the children back home. With the children, I realized that the more time we had to do free play , the better (and more) my children learned.
So … how to do it? Aren’t we supposed to push our kids to be smarter by helping them do more worksheets and glue their eyes to screens so they can learn online? Not really. The basic needs of our children must be met so that they can learn. If children are hungry, tired, or restless (from not having enough activity), they will not thrive academically. If we really want our children to learn and learn well, we must give them free time. A lot of free time. According to the Spanish Association of Pediatrics , “Children who have enough moments to play freely grow healthier, develop their capacities of all kinds more and perform better in school.”
Not everyone has the luxury of an outdoor space, a garden, a swimming pool, a large terrace, but it is not necessary to have a private patio for your children to play, free play is valuable whether indoors or outdoors. However, if you can get your kids outside, there are endless advantages. My children have spent at least three hours a day in the sun. Playing with magic sand, drawing with chalk on the ground, riding a bike and hiding in the teepee. They use up all their energy and come in dirty and hungry. After having a snack, they happily choose a story and watch it for half an hour while I cook dinner. Sunlight and endless exercise do their magic. Usually bedtime is an epic battle, but now they are exhausted.
Wherever they engage in free play, they are working on their social skills. Like many parents, I was concerned for the well-being of my children without face-to-face interaction with their peers and teachers in the school setting. But it turns out that my kids have each other and can practice social skills at home just like they do on the playground. There is a lot of negotiation about who gets what and when. They have had arguments, but they have found out every time. Their interactions require patience, empathy, give and take, and apologies. Seriously, it’s like they’re running around and participating in their own self-improvement conference. It’s fun (and enjoyable) to watch.
They have also experienced a lot of boredom. Now, I know that many parents fear their children complaining that they are “so bored,” but it turns out that being bored is a great gift. Out of boredom comes self-reflection, creativity, and relaxation. One day my children found different elements of the house and the terrace while playing in the house. Meanwhile, I sat next to them reading a book and drinking iced tea. Win-Win? You will tell me.
We are trying to make the most of the time we have together, despite the fact that sometimes it seems like the whole world is falling apart. I just can’t make myself force my kids to stay indoors while I fight all four of them to stay still, quiet, and learn. We do what we can, within reason, and then continue to learn in another way, through free play.
By the way, the schools have caught up. More and more research and experts have claimed that recess is important. Some neighborhoods have begun to shed or drastically reduce homework. What we realize as a society is that perhaps we have been wrong for some time. There are numerous benefits to allowing children to play without step-by-step instructions from an adult. One of them is the very objective of the school: to learn. According to Pediatrics , “When play is allowed to be propelled by children, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately participate fully in the passions that they want to chase.
Social isolation has given parents an opportunity to remember that learning happens in a myriad of places, both internal and external, and in different ways. There is value in letting our children have free and unstructured playtime. In any case, our children are happiest when they create their own fun. And when children are happy, parents are too.