Ditch the playdate: 4 ways to encourage creative play for kids

Parents and experts are pushing back against today's level of organized play, and the safety precautions around that play. From hyper-padded playgrounds to parents being arrested for letting their children play alone, some assert that in the US, we may have gone too far in protecting kids, and thus draining their creativity and self-sufficiency in the process.

In recent months, reports in The Atlantic, The Economist, NPR, and other media have pointed out that perhaps it is time for parents to let kids play freely again – outside of the confines of playdates, parental supervision, and precisely mapped out playgrounds. 

Parents undoubtedly want their kids to be safe, but recent reports suggest that much of the perceived danger parents worry about for kids is overblown by media reports. The tide seems to be turning, and rather than letting their choices be solely guided by their fears, parents are starting to put child safety into a larger perspective.

Here are four ways parents can help their kids have more open and creative play.

Edgar Su/Reuters
Children play at an interactive playground called "Tangle", where they create their art installations by weaving colourful elastic bands around poles at a skating rink in the Marina Bay Sands mall, in Singapore August 1.

1. Underschedule your kids

Scott Gries/Tollytots/AP/FILE
A guest plays with Disney Princess dolls at the "Playdate in the City" event benefitting Operation Smile, on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012.

Adults raised in America before the 1990s remember a time when riding a bike to a friend’s house and staying outside all day and out of reach of parents was common practice. Kids did not carry cell phones. But they knew to call their parents (on landlines) to ask permission to leave their usual neighborhood stomping grounds or stay at a friend's house for dinner. They also didn’t have a lot on their schedules.

In the popular post “Banish the Playdate,” parenting blogger Chris Burnholdt, author of the blog Dadncharge.com argues that parents have taken the playdate too far, making it a formal affair that removes all of the spontaneity and adventure of playing. At the same time, he writes that the playdate has too many built-in expectations for parents as well – including forced socializing and time-wasting small talk – when all parents involved could be enjoying their own free time while their kids entertain themselves. 

Beyond playdates, the same hyper-scheduling tends to extend to every waking moment of kids’ lives, from sports practices and art classes on weekdays to performances and games on weekends, and camps during every week of summer vacation.

Research shows that allowing kids to be, dare we say it – bored – allows them to utilize their creativity to find things to keep them busy. It also helps to relax parents by freeing up their own schedules as well and saving them from time in the chauffeur seat, driving kids from one activity to another.

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