Why over-organising your child’s time could be ruining their childhood.

Thanks to our brand partner, Combantrin®

We are overwhelmed with choices when it comes to activities for our kids. We’re told they have to do swimming lessons for safety, dance lessons for discipline, tennis for hand-eye coordination, soccer for teamwork and art classes for creativity. On top of that, their friends are doing gymnastics, Taekwondo, going to Spanish classes and learning piano…and they’re not even five. Given the pressure to enrol in everything, it’s easy to forget the importance of unstructured play – time for your kids to explore, get dirty and be free.

With screens and extracurricular activities taking up so much space in our kids’ lives, it’s more important than ever for them to get outside and play with sticks and dirt, climb a tree and face plant while practising cartwheels. Our challenge as parents is to avoid the urge to plan every hour of their day and give them the space and time they need for unstructured play.

"Child-driven play is a great outlet for kids to relieve stress and regulate their emotions." Image: iStock.

Unstructured play is essential for healthy development and is a source of great joy for kids and their parents. It encourages children to use their creativity and imaginations and helps them solve problems, build confidence and develop friendships. It allows them to move at their own pace, explore their surroundings and discover their passions and preferences. In a world where there is increasing pressure for kids to perform in structured activities, child-driven play is a great outlet for kids to relieve stress and regulate their emotions.

Will they get grazed knees and bruises from climbing trees and doona surfing down the staircase? Absolutely.  Will they get a snotty nose and worms from sharing fun times with friends? Maybe.

Outdoor play is a great escape from daily pressures and expectations. Image: Supplied.
Outdoor play is a great escape from daily pressures and expectations. Image: Supplied.

But I'm not one for overly worrying about these things. We need to see them as signs of a childhood well spent. Bloody knees can be covered with a Band-Aid, dirt can be scrubbed off, snotty noses will eventually stop running and worms can be easily treated with Combantrin. Kids should be free to play - and sometimes that results in uncomfortable things like worms.

It’s part of growing up. I had them as a child and my kids will have them too. The problem with worms is that they’re super contagious, so for the family's all-round care I like to keep Combantrin chocolate squares in the cupboard, close to hand. It's an easy fix for something that's a completely normal part of childhood.

Speaking of childhood, my best memory of my own "unstructured play" was building an indoor cubby house with my sister, rounding up beetles in our garden (until one bit me) and playing frisbee at the beach with my cousins.

Jacqui McCallum
My sister and I had some good times when we weren’t dressed as Jackie and Joan Collins. Image: Supplied.

When my friends came over, we’d head to my bedroom to marry Barbie and Ken in a lavish ceremony or, if the weather was good, we’d pop on our bathers and spend the arvo running through the sprinklers and squealing until the neighbours cracked it. Most days my parents would tell us to go outside and not resurface until we were called to dinner. Admittedly they didn’t have a myriad of digital devices to fend off (there was only my Discman loaded with Roxette to confiscate!).

So, while there is certainly a place for structured activities (my kids love their swimming and dance lessons), one of the best things you can do for your child is ensure they have heaps of time to play, explore and discover. When they look back on their childhoods, they’ll remember the special times they spent playing with their siblings or friends, not realising how much it was teaching them about life (as well as life's little problems!).

What's your child's favourite activity? Tell us in the comments section below.

This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Combantrin®.