Growing up, my siblings and I did not have many fancy toys. My dad was \u2013 still is \u2013 a tailor for men and his tailoring shop was our playland for as long as I can remember. We would have toyed with his measuring tapes and rulers for whips and swords, had pedalling contests on his old school sewing machines, role-played as a fashion designer and supermodels with his fabric catalogues, and our most magical time \u2013 getting into his spacious display window and danced with the handsome mannequins when the shutters were down at night. They did come alive! Well, in our imagination! In the evening during dinner breaks, my grandma would let us out to the back alley of the shop for a breather, that was when neighbours would come out to catch up on each other\u2019s day and happenings, kids got to play together, too! Jump rope, hopscotch, Pepsi-Cola, Batu Seremban, hide and seek, and cycling on the deserted backstreet from one end to the other and back, among many other thought-up games! To Play Is To Learn Looking back, I now realised those free play did not just help us pass time while our parents were busy at work, we were actually learning whilst playing without even realising! Those were indeed the good old days. Of course, the world and times are different now and our children can no longer be left unsupervised outdoors or in public places. Although different sets of challenges are facing us currently, one thing remains constant \u2013 that play is an integral part of childhood. Sadly, over the last five decades, it is observed that free play is on the decline among children, this trend has led to the rise of depression and anxiety, a deficit in attention span and self-control in kids \u2013 among the many factors that cause the birth of the snowflake generation. Life Skills - Play To Acquire It is important to understand that playtime offers children the opportunity to learn life skills that cannot be taught in a structured setting like the classrooms. If we pay attention to a child\u2019s play, we will notice that the child is actually imitating the adults \u2013 the way we interact and communicate, the roles we play in life, our tone and body language, etc. Vital emotional and social skills are acquired during play and disputes; this is when children learn how to get along with others, how to manage failures and difficult people or situations, how to be a team player, how to solve problems, and at the end of it, they will walk away understanding a little more about what it means to be kind, empathetic, brave, generous, and creative. Every playtime is a teaching and learning experience no formal education can offer. When your child comes home from a day of structured learning in school, with rules to follow and social norms to observe, they can get stressed and tired mentally. Do allow them some time to unwind and do (i.e. play) as they wish without being reminded of a timetable to adhere to. Here are some ways parents can encourage free play. \t Goodbye, Screens and Gadgets! Right, you might have heard of this line way too much, but as long as you still believe in holistic education, this rule is here to stay. No doubt, it is irrefutable that technology does play an important part in education in this modern world, but it should not be mistaken for convenience parenting. The initial step of removing the devices may be challenging, you have work to do and your children will whine but once you remove the screens, you will see that they\u00a0really do not mind the playing and before long, their minds are off of the TV and are deep in their play (true story!). \t Provide the Gears And by gears, I do mean bits and pieces of toys, any toys at all, it does not matter if they are no longer in their individual full sets. Leave them out in a big container and watch the magic unfolds \u2013 from afar of course. This whole free play would mean that parents do not hover over the kids and dictate what is right or wrong in their play. I have seen my children set up a whole stage for their princesses and teddy bears rescuing an army of teeny tiny soldiers who happened to be stuck in a well (that was actually a plastic pail) and how later on, the animals from the farm threw a celebratory party for the safe return of the plastic soldiers that may or may not involve mud pies. Go figure. \t The Stationery Cart This one took me a little while to get on because well, cleaning up is really not my thing! But I soon learn the joy of filling up my children's mobile cart with crayons, colour pencils, magic pens, stickers, papers, coloured papers, cards, homemade playdough (keeps well in the fridge!), glue sticks, ice cream sticks, washi tapes, notepads, chalk, art blocks, safety scissors, punchers of various shapes, ink pads and stamps, expired magazines, and the list goes on. It is lovely to have all 3 of my children making their own kind of art at the same time on the same table without squabbling! Whenever the stationery cart is out, I would also play relaxing music in the background to help set a quiet, soothing mood. My children enjoy it! \t Kick Them Out In every literal sense. Whenever my children have met their quota of 30 minutes of screen time and with homework out of the way, I would get them out of the house and let them go crazy at our little garden. This is when they would get on their bikes and try to manoeuvre around each other in that tiny garden\/porch, call out their little friends from next door and chat away (oh they could go on forever!), or even help mummy water the plants, pick out the weeds, and study the ants and millipedes under their feet! \t School For Play If you have preschool-age children, do consider enrolling them in one that gives focus on not just academic excellence, but also free play for an all-round development. While routine and structure help to keep young children grounded and feeling safe, it is as important for them to have the creative space to explore the world around them, led by their own curiosity. One such school is no other than The children's house\u00ae, where children are encouraged to self-lead and make creative choices, and they get to explore their surroundings either individually or in groups through learning and playing, essentially cultivating independence and creativity in the child from a young age. Image Credit: The children's house\u00ae Image Credit: The children's house\u00ae The Montessori-centered school offers a nurturing, non-competitive learning environment, which aims to meet the individual developmental needs of each child. Recognising that the environment is an important element, The children\u2019s house\u00ae classrooms are well-planned and thoughtfully designed to avoid overcrowding and every furniture is child-sized and child-friendly. Image Credit: The children's house\u00ae It is no doubt that The children\u2019s house\u00ae is an established Montessori school and currently has 13 locations and counting to serve the communities. To find out more, log on to The children\u2019s house\u00ae\u00a0website for a look-see! And good news, parents! Trial classes are also available here. Schedule an appointment or call us to find out more about the trial classes. Academic Excellence? Let\u2019s Start With Playtime Image Credit: The children's house\u00ae Being playful is an instinct, children were born to play because their developmental milestones are dependent on it. In order that they may excel in their academic learning, free play is important in every sense. The key for children to thrive in their childhood and ultimately have that positive results spill over to adulthood, is when they are given the opportunities to explore their curiosity, experiment with the world around them, and discover the joy of life-long learning.