Unstructured Play Time & Scandinavian Parenting

As a family and parenting duo, we are big advocates of providing unstructured play time, and this is even more important now that our little lady is off school for her holidays, and over what can be such a busy festive time.  We have found that unstructured play just seems to recentre our trio, and I know I have mentioned the topic in previous blogs, but I felt it was time to devote a whole post to the subject.  This is not only an ethos we follow with regard to their play, but also their learning, and I have drifted more and more away from structured learning methods since our little lady gave up school in the UK at the end of March, and it does seem to have paid off hugely.  Both in terms of learning enthusiasm and motivation, and also in progress.  Especially with our mini men who are now grabbing pens and writing “letters to post”, as well as signs, and just generally writing!  Something even 8 weeks ago, I wouldn’t have seen them choosing as an activity over something else such as sofa parachuting!  

There have been a couple of books I have read that have really supported this change in our parenting style and our enthusiasm for unstructured play.  “The Idle Parent” by Tom Hodgkinson is well worth a read, with a bit of humour thrown in for good measure.  “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne is another resource that is hugely informative, and one I keep by the bed to dive into to remind myself of things as and when I need to.  The last one is extremely popular at the moment, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with.  It is “The Danish Way of Parenting” by Jessica Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl, and whilst it is based on the Danes and their ways of living, this book could be written about the Swedes, and provides many of the reasons why we have chosen to bring our family up in Scandinavia and enjoy their lifestyle and culture.  Have a look at the website www.thedanishway.com and check out the secrets to raising happy children, who in turn become happy adults 🙂

The part I want to discuss in this post though is the importance of play…unstructured play that is child led.  Play is a very important method of learning (and one of our major reasons for boycotting UK schools).  Our little lady turns 9 in February, and yet here in Sweden she has only missed one year of school, and currently goes mornings only, which leaves children here, like other parts of Scandinavia, huge amounts of time to do what children do best….PLAY!!  Play decreases anxiety and increases resilience, something we have experienced first hand with our little lady.  She used to worry about everything…the perfect candidate to fall apart over moving country.  However, she now takes everything in her stride, has the confidence to put us in our place when we get things wrong, and above all has not only moved countries, but started a new school without speaking the language, mid term, and slotted in perfectly!  She may now be back in school, but she still has plenty of time to play, and takes full advantage of it.  The last 8 months have seen a huge improvement in her ability to go off and get fully immersed in some sort of imaginative play whether it be with Lego, dolls, trains, or something crafty.  As for the mini men, they are much more suited to the idea of playing full time until they are 7, as they are not designed to sit on their bottoms, in neat uniforms, being unquestioningly obedient…it’s just not in their DNA.  It doesn’t mean they are unruly, or naughty (although there is some of that 😉 ), it just means that they are being 5 year old boys.  We have not asked them to be square pegs trying to fit into round holes. We are letting them be themselves.  Even when they do start school, the Swedes, like the Danes, are focusing foremost on helping children be secure and happy in themselves, and have good self esteem…..all done through play.  They make this the priority.  Skills such as reading all level out in the end.  Why push them before they are ready?

This unstructured play needs rules for us grown ups too….we can only intervene when absolutely necessary.  This is something that would earn me a lot of parental black looks (from random strangers) in parks in the UK.  I would let my boys run up slides, providing there was no one waiting to come down.  I wouldn’t helicopter over them up a climbing frame while they swung from one arm, testing and learning their limits.  But I had to put up with a lot of burning ears and feeling like the worst mum ever, doing what I knew was right for them.  It also goes for disagreements too….now, I am well practised at this, as having a pair of twins there are a lot during their play, but by standing back and just offering guidance, I am teaching them to negotiate (even if it reaches screaming level sometimes), some self control (really crossing my fingers with this one!), and hopefully compromise and adaptation to various situations, with a little bit of decision making thrown in.

We don’t just stay indoors at home with conventional toys either.  Play can take place in many places.  My trio love turning rocks into pirate ships, beaches into small world play, and trees into climbing frames and finding natural playgrounds.  We found the academic pressure in the UK too much (and we were grown ups!), and the system was just teaching our children to think a certain way, rather than using their own initiative and problem solving skills….which play allows them to do.  In the UK we are trying to educate 4 year olds to fit into a country’s system now, that in 12 years time will in all probability be completely different!

The photos I have used in the post have been taken from today’s walk, where a dog chased two little boys (our little lady tried to do some of the walk on all fours), and they could see Octonauts in the fjord 😉  Imagination everywhere!!  And while they play, play, played this morning……I achieved this………….

See….there are benefits for the parents too 😉

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