free play

At 6:05pm last Tuesday night, my three year old became a kitten. For 30 minutes she crawled around the house meowing. Scampering between my husband and me, she nudged our legs and laid on our feet. She meowed and purred as we "pet" her head and scratched behind her ears. This brought back fond memories of second grade recess. My friends and I would pretend we were unicorns. We had grand adventures, eluding hunters and going on quests for treasures.
Not only is make-believe a fantastic childhood past time, it is vital to the development of children. Alix Spiegel wrote a wonderful article in which he discusses how make believe becomes a powerful device in building self-discipline. During make-believe, children engage in "private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. " This speech later becomes a necessary tool in problem solving as adults. We often use it "to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions." 
Unfortunately, too often children's play is structure. Whether it is through organized leagues, lessons, computer games, Wii's or school activities. When a child is told how to "play," his/her imagination is not challenged. Essentially, the child uses less and less private speech. 
The best thing we can do for children is give them time for free play. Encourage them to use their imagination and play along with them when they do. In doing so, we will not only help make wonderful childhood memories, we will allow our children to succeed as adults.