Last month I shared how we are working with Petits Filous to promote their latest campaign and the importance of free play. As part of this campaign we took part in the Let Them Be Bored Challenge, where instead of jumping in and directing the children’s play (even when they mutter the dreaded words “I’m bored!), we simply stepped back and let them work through their boredom and Play Free, making sure they didn’t reach for the tablets, smart phones or TV as a boredom filler.
I’ll be honest with you, I was nervous about how this challenge would go as, despite the fact that my children love to play, I do rely on the TV or the iPads at certain points throughout the day to get things done or even just get a few extra minutes in bed on the weekend! I was worried that the children would whinge the moment I said they could not have the TV or play on the iPad and, if truth be told, I was worried that I might just crumble and give in!
So I did what any parent would do in this situation, and I passed the book. I told them that the iPads were broken and the TV wouldn’t turn on and, rather than whinge and cry and throw themselves on the floor in protest, they simply accepted it!
And so the challenge began and by the end of our first week I had noticed a number of things….
1. The children were just as happy without screen time
Once all technology had been removed the children simply got on with it and, instead of reaching for the iPad in boredom, they reached for a toy or a book, completely without prompting. Of course we had a couple of moments where the children muttered, “I’m bored!” and yet I simply told them, “Find something to do!”, and they did!
2. Their imaginations have no limits
One of my favourite things about this challenge was seeing that the children’s imaginations have no limits. I was lucky enough to speak with leading play expert Anita Cleare who told me that the longer a child plays, the more imaginative and elaborate their games will become. So in that first half hour they may play with a toy in the conventional way but an hour in they may have created a whole new use for a toy – a regular garage may have become a space station, a truck a flying saucer, and those ideas just grow and grow.
I loved seeing their games unfold and hearing their enthusiasm as they got into their play. It made me realise that at this age we should be encouraging their imaginations at every opportunity we get.
3. They are creatures of habit
One thing which I found particularly interesting, and one which Anita told me was very common in children, is that children tend to go back to whichever game or toy they last played with and pick up where they left off. I found this to be the case each morning when the children would rush off to resume their play in exactly the same way, with exactly the same toys, and yet despite it starting off in the same way, it never ended up going in the same direction twice!
4. The children looked forward to playing each day
One of the biggest surprises for me, after the first few days without the television to watch in the morning, was that the children started to look forward to playing each day. “Once we’ve had our breakfast can we go and play?” they would ask before school, “If we get dressed fast will there be time to play?”.
“Let’s play that superhero game when we get in, okay?” they would say as we walked home from school. “Is there time to play before bed?” they would plead. And I found that particularly lovely, and also quite sad really, that without technology my children had simply reverted back to free play in a way that my brother and I had done, all of those years ago, before technology came along and stole a little of our childhoods.
5. Their bonds grew closer
With the youngest three born within the space of two years, they have always been very close as siblings, something which has it’s pros and cons. Between the three of them we have a lot of arguments, a lot of tears over wanting something the other one has, and a lot of fall outs where I always end up as the referee! During this challenge I decided that I was going to take a real step back, not just from directing their play but from trying to resolve their fall outs, and see where that led.
Of course, as with all children, it wasn’t long before the children came to me, “Harry won’t give me my doll back!”, “Megan isn’t playing nicely!”, “Eva said I can’t play this game!”. And I simply told them to play nicely, to be kind, and to share their toys, and I left it up to them to decide between them how to resolve their fall out between them.
It’s interesting that the more the children played together, the more they realised that actually, playing nicely was way more fun than arguing. As the week progressed, it was so lovely to see them actually enjoying their games or imaginative play without all the bickering and fall outs. Often Gaz would come home from work and ask, “Where are the children?” as they would be in the play room, quiet as mice, hiding in their make shift den or with their heads together planning their next big adventure.
Anita explained that through play, children forge bonds and learn vital social skills to carry them through life. It was interesting for me to see that the more the children played well together, the more that spilled out into other areas of our lives. When it was time for a snack it was lovely to hear them chatting away, sometimes still in character from whichever game they had just been playing, enjoying a delicious Petits Filous yoghurt, fortified in vitamin D, giving them an energy boost for plenty more play.
At the end of our challenge I had imagined that I would be grateful to switch on the TV or charge up the iPads and enjoy a little peace and quiet again! But it turns out that children really don’t need that kind of stimulation 24/7, that free play is a fundamental part of a child’s development, and therefore should be nurtured, and that actually, left to their own devices, they have the most powerful tool they could ever need in their imagination.
We have absolutely loved taking part in the Let Them Be Bored Challenge and although I can’t promise we won’t ever be switching on the TV or handing over an iPad, especially not at 6am on a Sunday morning, I think going forward we will be making a real effort to encourage the children to play more, to use their imaginations and most of all, to simply be children.
*** I’m working with Petits Filous and BritMums promoting the #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign about the importance of free play.