What many people seem to misunderstand is that there is intense concentration and phenomenal learning taking place as children make sense of their world for themselves when they are involved in open-ended and undirected play. That means there is no adult instructing, helping, informing, drawing conclusions or protecting the child in question. They are not being watched and evaluated they are not being extended or hot-housed. The parent does not involve themselves in the play, unless invited and only plays according to the instructions of the child. The adult is present and warmly comforting if needed and on demand, otherwise they are conspicuous by their absence.
If we take the example, often attributed to learning a musical instrument or other highly demanding skill, and transfer it to the importance of play, we can say it takes 10,000 hours of open-ended and undirected play to begin to learn how to manage risk, develop skills in problem-solving and make sense of the world. It’s a good idea to have children able to know if they truly can manage for themselves, or need to go for help, before they naturally begin to break away from their parents at around age nine. 10,000 hours over nine years is just over 3 hours a day or 21 hours a week. It doesn’t sound a lot until we work out how much time is spent doing other things – some of it essential, much of it stolen by adults – sleeping; eating; listening to stories; being involved in family rituals; personal hygiene; times in transit; formal activities and school; chores; adult directed play and so on.
For an example, here’s some of the open ended and undirected play I just happened to notice (when I glanced in his direction) Mr Butterfly (two and a half-years old) involved in over a period of about three hours on Saturday morning:
Spinning the wheel of an old trailer which was perched up high; moving a dressing-gown cord in the air and watching how its shadow changed on the ground; sawing a crayon with a handsaw; cutting another crayon with scissors; jumping off items of various heights; climbing the fence; swinging on the self-closing gate and letting it bang against the framing; hunting for hens eggs; digging in mud, dirt and gravel with hands, digger and spade; telling himself stories; singing songs of his own invention; chasing the chooks from the garden; building huts using the bedding with his brothers; playing monsters with his brothers; drawing pictures and explaining them to me; and playing a monkey-drum and dancing like only a white boy can!
And that’s only the things I happened to see, by chance; notice the lack of battery powered or electronic play? The rest of his learning happened out of my sight sight. (Yes, out of sight.)
Have a playful week. 🙂