Being a mom is hard work.
As parents, we are so busy taking care of our children, getting food on the table and managing the household, we may feel guilty about the lack of time we have to play with our children.
But is this guilt justified? You may be surprised about the Dutch philosophy on this matter.
Most Dutch mothers have a very minimalistic approach when it comes to playing with their children. They believe that children need to play by themselves as much as possible without them interfering (unrestricted free play). Moms will play the occasional board game, read books and help with difficult puzzles when needed.
And that’s about it.
No weekly trips to indoor playgrounds and no arranged playgroups with set activities. Just plenty of time for children to play (and be bored). The Dutch mom feels that free play is very important for her children, which is supported by scientific research.
Why free play is important
Many studies have shown that playing is crucial for learning and processing daily experiences for children. Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and bestselling author describes six specific advantages of free play for the development of young children in his book “Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five.’’ These proven advantages are1;
- Children are more creative; they can come up with more creative ‘out of the box’ ways to use objects.
- The language skills of children increase through unrestricted play.
- They develop better problem solving skills.
- Children who play more frequently are less stressed.
- Their memory is being trained.
- Toddlers learn better social skills when being exposed to play-oriented environments opposed to instruction-oriented environments.
Of course, the quality of play plays a big part in these big advantages that can be harvested. So how do Dutch moms let their kids play?
Making room for unrestricted play
Playing alone is something every toddler and preschooler can learn (http://www.happydutchhome.com/get-your-toddler-to-play-alone/). Dutch moms let their children grow accustomed to playing alone or with their siblings from an early age on. As the kids grow up, their way of playing will become more independent and they will need less support from an adult.
It is important to provide toys for your children that are suitable for open ended play. Dutch moms buy their young kids toys from brands like Lego Duplo, Playmobile 1-2-3 and wooden toys from brands like HABA. Dolls, dress-up clothes and play kitchens are also very popular. Almost every Dutch household with young children I have visited has the Ikea play kitchen or some alternative for example. Electronic toys are less popular, because they don’t contribute much to a child’s development.
Television is limited for children in most Dutch households as well. When your child watches television, it has less time to benefit from playing. This goes for a turned-on TV in the background as well. Many Dutch moms restrict the use of the TV to the time it takes to make dinner or a set hour a day.
Keeping the schedule open
In these busy times, children have less and less time to enjoy free play. That’s one of the reasons many Dutch moms limit afterschool activities for older children and don’t participate in toddler playgroups and clubs. They feel that children need at least a couple of hours to play freely every day. The other reason for limiting organized activities is that Dutch moms don’t want to be a taxi driver all the time and like to stay flexible.
Playdates are planned at school by kids themselves. They choose who they want to play with and where. Of course, they need the approval of their parents but parents try not to meddle too much in their children’s personal lives. And on these playdates, the kids play by themselves, no entertainment needed. So, there is more time for unrestricted play.
Dutch moms let their kids play outside alone
Playing outside is a big part of a typical Dutch upbringing. Older kids (±7 and older) can go play outside on the streets without parental supervision. Toddlers and preschoolers can play outside in the backyard and are not watched every minute (most Dutch backyards are safe for children and completely fenced). Kids learn to ride a bike, play in the rain or snow and make sandcastles in the nearest sandpit. They play hide and seek with neighborhood friends and chalk up whole sidewalks.
Playing outside has so many benefits. It’s better for their physical health and mental health than staying inside all day. Sandpits and playing in the grass is a fuss free way of sensory play. Riding a bike, going from a slide and playing on monkey bars is a way to develop gross motor skills. And interacting with neighborhood children is a great way of socializing. Of course, a safe neighborhood is a prerequisite for letting your child playing outside without supervision and most Dutch parents are lucky enough to live in one.
Obviously, quality time spent with your children is important. But you don’t have to entertain your kids all day long. Providing the conditions for quality free play is more important than losing your mind playing with your kid’s bob the builder set for the 100th time.
Dutch moms choose to be very minimalist when it comes to entertaining their children. They create the best possible conditions for free play by giving their children open ended toys and a lot of free time to play. TV time is limited and the children are encouraged to play outside as much as possible. This approach to child’s play gives Dutch children all the proven benefits unrestricted play has to offer.
Part 1: Why Dutch Parents Don’t Push Their Kids In School
Part 2: Why Dutch Parents Don’t Entertain Their Kids (you are here)
Part 3: Three Dutch Parenting Pillars That Make Sane Parents and Happy Children
Kittie Ansems is a Dutch mom, a former child care professional and a parenting book fanatic. Her website www.happydutchhome.com is all about helping moms survive their kids’ toddler years, using Dutch parenting principles.
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