Everyone is saying it: children need lots of creative play, make-believe, and free time in order to develop to their highest potential. Intellectually, emotionally, academically, physically -- any way you cut it, imaginative play is good for our children. Want to get your kids Into college? Let them play, said CNN last year. And the New York Times reported that the self-regulation skills that dramatic play develops "have been shown to predict academic achievement more reliably than I.Q. tests.”
But in the day of the overscheduled kid, the dominance of corporate branded character toys, and the proliferation of digital media -- not to mention the fear of the untold perils outside -- imaginative play is hard to come by. We often joke about how kids are more interested in the box the toy came in than the toy itself, yet it takes courage to choose toys for our children that don't talk, walk, zoom, vroom, light up, or touch down.
But if we as parents really believe that going unplugged is good for kids (count me in!), how can we steer them toward some good old-fashioned fun? "A toy that nurtures creative play is ninety percent child and only ten percent toy," says Susan Linn, Harvard psychologist and author of The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World. "Play is useful for children, and engaging and exciting for children, when they drive the play, when they’re in charge of what’s going to happen in the play,” says Linn.
Here are some ideas, taken from my own life with four kids and no TV, and from other free play proponents.