Except in the playground, you will hardly see groups of kids these days who are indulging in free play. You will mostly find siblings huddled in the living room playing with their individual mobile phones, laptops, tablet computers or gaming consoles.
Young boys and girls who are into sports only usually play with coaches while parents dutifully watch and cheer. Families hardly ever play and bond together, which could have something to do with the decline of play itself, or a lack of time due to the busy schedules of both parents and kids.
Such a decline in children’s play actually has negative effects to the development of kids – socially, mentally, emotionally and even physically. We will delve a bit deeper into the reason behind this decline in children’s play in the following section, and also count down the top ten totally forgotten – but still fun – activities that families should definitely go back to.
Why is there a Decline in Children’s Play?
Kids from several generations back probably remember playing hide and seek; red rover; tag; building forts; playing house; hopscotch; or just running around outdoors. Over the years, however, there is a decline in children’s play, according to the American journal of Play. According to child psychologists, since 1955, free play has been continually declining because adults exert control over their kids’ activities. Parents would rather have the kids play with electronic gadgets right in the safety of their own home than allowing them to do free play outside, for fear of predators, physical harm or some other reason.
To give you an idea about how much child’s play has declined over the years, here is a quick look at the result of a study conducted to assess the way that 6 to 8 year-old kids spent their time – in 1981 (group A) and 1997 (group B):
- Group B spent less time in play and had lesser free time as compared to group A.
- Group B spent 18% more time at school; 145% more time doing school work; and 168% more time shopping with their parents.
- All in all, group B spent only 11 hours per week at play – including playing in front of the computer.
- In a similar study, it showed that 85% of moms admitted that their own kids played outdoors less frequently and for shorter periods of time. Their restriction was due to safety concerns, predators, road traffic and the possibility of their kids encountering bullies.
These figures are definitely alarming because having such a decline in children’s play limits their mental, emotional and even physical growth. If you have a kid who is obsessed with computer games and hardly ever gets out of the house to play and be physically active, he or she could develop obesity at such an early age. Not to mention the fact that there could be a lack of emotional and mental growth if the only interactions that your child has is with other adults in the house, and a very limited number of kids in school or within the neighborhood.
As such, it is high time to bring back playtime in every kid’s life. There are many benefits to it including:
- Free play gives kids the chance to develop a connection to their own self.
- It is through play that kids learn how to follow rules, make decisions, solve problems, and exercise self-control.
- It is through free play that kids can learn how to handle their emotions like anger, fear, frustration and joy.
- Free play encourages kids to make friends, get along with other kids and thrive in social situations.
- Playing is a simple source of happiness.
More importantly, when free play is done with the rest of the family, it can serve as an activity that strengthens the bond between each member.
10 Totally Forgotten Family Activities to Encourage Children’s Play
Instead of letting your kids play with tablet computers, mobile phones, laptops, gaming consoles or simply let them idly watch television, you can go out as a family and indulge in activities that encourage child’s play. To give you an idea about which family activities we have totally forgotten about these past few years and are worthy of coming back, take a look at the following list:
First, draw a hopscotch on the ground. The first player tosses a pebble into the first square, then hops over that square on one foot and through the rest of the court. At the final square, the player turns around and repeats the hopping pattern on the way back. For the second round, the player tosses the marker into the second square and hops through, avoiding the spot where the market is placed. A player is out if the marker fails to land on the right square, if the foot lands in a square with the marker, or if the player puts two feet down in any one box. The first player to complete the entire cycle wins.
2. British Bulldog
In an open field or a big backyard, you can play British bulldog with older kids. Determine which kid will play the bulldog, and she or she stands in the middle of the play area. Other players line up at one end of the area. When the bulldog yells “British Bulldog”, the other players run to the opposite direction and avoid being caught by the bulldog.
The goal of the bulldog is to catch another player who should be hugged or lifted off the ground. The yell when someone is caught is “1, 2, 3, British Bulldog”. Whoever gets caught also gets to be the bulldog. The last player caught will play bulldog for the next round.
3. Capture the Flag
This is best played in an open area, where two teams can be made of three or more kids. Two teams with six kids each work best. Each team should have a flag (an actual flag, a t-shirt, a bandana or similar items). Use a stick which can serve as a border between the two teams. A jail location is also needed.
Each team should hide their flag on their side of the border. After hiding the flags, players will attempt to sneak to the other team’s border, find and steal the flag, then race back to their own side without being caught. To capture an enemy, a player must tag someone from the other team while on his or her own side to the border. The player goes to the jail and wait to be rescued.
To rescue a teammate, a player should sneak across the border, find the jail, tag the prisoner and race back to the side of the border. Players can be recaptured by tagging them again before reaching the border.
The winner of the game is the team which safely captures the opposing team’s flag and bring it to their own border.
Finally, there’s skipping which is an ideal game that provides hours of fun for kids. they can jump rope individually, or one can jump through the hoops while two other players rotate the jumping rope around.
5. Four Square
Another game that can be played by families outdoors is four square. For this, a large square should be drawn (about two square meters) on the asphalt or driveway using chalk. Divide the square into four smaller squares, then number them one to four. One player stands in each square. The player in square 4 can start by bounding the ball inside the square, then hit it to another player. If a player misses the ball or if it lands out of bounds, he or she goes back to square one and the others rotate up to form a square. The champion is the player who spends the most time in square four.
6. Balloon Pong
This is a more basic version of ping pong where all you need is a balloon, two paper plates, duct tape and craft sticks. First, have the kids decorate the paper plates with any art work that they want. Second, tape a craft stick to the back of each paper plate to create paddles. The balloon will serve as the ball and two kids can hit the balloon back and forth using their paddles made from paper plates.
7. Indoor Camping
For this, all you need is a tent, chocolate chip cookies or S’more made inside the kitchen, and a few scary ghost stories. Indoor camping is an activity that can be shared by the whole family.
8. Orange Crush
This is a classic skipping game which involves two or more players. If the ball happens to be in a player’s possession while the word ‘orange’ is sung, he or she needs to bound the ball off the wall and catch it. For crush, the ball should be thrown against the wall, bounced then caught. For Pepsi, the ball should be bounced on the ground, then the wall. For cola, the ball should be thrown against the wall and tossed under one leg.
9. Red Rover
This is another classic family activity that has been totally forgotten. With Red Rover, two teams of equal size will play. Each team forms a line and holds hands to create a human chain. The two teams face each other, standing about 25 feet apart. A coin decides which team should go first. The first team gets to choose a player from the other team by saying “Red Rover, Red Rover, we call (the name of a kid from the other team) over!” while swinging their connected arms.
The player named lets go of the teammate’s hands, charges into the opponent, and try to break through the human chain. If the player succeeds, he or she would choose a kid from the opposing team to join his team. If not, he or she would become part of the team. The next team will take a turn calling someone over, and the team who first managers to capture all the players wins the game.
10. Freeze Tag
This is a game that kids these days probably still know. A child can play “it” and players decide which areas are out of bounds. The it child closes his or her eyes for ten seconds. Other kids will run and hide. After the it kid is finished counting, he or she should look for the hiding kids and tag them. The rules for tagging is that the arm, shoulder or back should be touched. The player tagged should stand with feet apart and freeze. To unfreeze, another player should crawl under the leg of the frozen kid without being tagged. The last player to get tagged becomes the next it.
When you go back to doing these activities that we totally have forgotten about, that bond between family members get strengthened, and kids get back their dose of much-needed child’s play.