When my son, Tyler, was born with cerebral palsy back in mid-1990’s, occupational therapists and physical therapists used to talk to my wife and me about “stimulation” in terms of getting Tyler to do certain things to assist him in meeting his milestones. We used to create little games for him to get him to use his left hand more or to encourage him to walk without his walker. Those days were filled with a lot of parent-child interaction, and while we didn’t know it at the time… play.
Today Tyler walks without a walker, is in general education classes and requires minimal support from a paraprofessional during the school day. Additionally, he has his driver’s permit (so watch out). I credit Tyler’s success to the day-to-day interaction my wife devoted to him. I also credit the numerous therapists, doctors and other professionals who assisted us (and sometimes fought with us) along the way.
In 2006, I was hired by the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn to oversee its operations and move the organization to the location we enjoy today. What I discovered early on was that people were coming to children’s museums primarily for the fun aspect. But, there were some who visited us who understood the value of play and understood that the simplicity of unstructured play, where children are allowed to use their imaginations, was important to their child’s development.
When we began plans for the exhibits in the new museum, we put educators at the planning table. These educators provided valuable input for our exhibits even before the exhibit design phase began. This helped us to ensure that every exhibit had education at its core, allowing us to then focus on the fun and creativity, giving you the museum you see today.
Unstructured play must be a part of every child’s life. It helps children develop socially and emotionally as they prepare for the big world in front of them. Unstructured play helps children develop critical thinking skills because through play, they simply have to figure things out. Unstructured play helps children with sequencing as they relay to you what they did during that time they pretended to be an “astronaut on the moon” or a “veterinarian.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what unstructured play can do for your child.