NY -- Strange as it may sound, bordom promotes happier, creative kids who are better problem solvers. When children use their own creativity with unstructured play, they find ways to amuse themselves -- even if it means simply daydreaming.
That's the advice of child development expert, Alan M. Hess who wants to see American children spend more time in unstructured play, less time in structured activities and much less time in front of mindless TV programs. Hess states, "Plain and simple, it's called creative child development. I recognize that in our society, it's a hard concept for peopke to grasp at first.
"Many American parents who work 60 to 70 hours a week impose a very structured lifestyle on their children. They're concerned about boredom, so they overschedule to keep kids busy. Believe it or not, there is a direct relationship between boredom and creative thought."
Alan Hess, president of Safari Ltd., with its line of museum quality creative toys, is a noted authority and respected expert in developing creative play for children. Hess states, "Think back to when you were a kid and you will recall valuable lessons. Left to our own devices we discovered resources we didn't know we had. I'm concerned that our busy, well-entertained children may not ever have the chance to learn them."
Hess, states, "Although most of the products that I've been involved with are designed for children four and up, especially our current Safari line of products, I constantly study toddler trends. Several pediatric physicions, who are part of our research team, have shared some disturbing trends with me regarding middle and upper class parents who push their children to the extremes in the hopes that this will provide a better foundation for the child's future.
"They've told me about situations where parents are determined to find the "perfect three year old" pre-school so that their daughter will be prepared for law school later in life. Other parents make their children compete in soccer matches and karate competiton when the child is recovering from the flu. Their misguided reasoning is that the child needs to learn what competition means, regardless of illness, or circumstances. This thinking is insane."
Hess firmly believes that children need time to be children. Creativity, social skills and fun are vital to a well-rounded child. He suggests that parents help children get the most out of unstructured play by limiting TV. Parents might also provide materials, creative toys and even gentle suggestions, if necessary. Parental guidance and parental participation is also important. Hess said, "Bored kids eventually take out the paints, build a dinosaur den, read a book ... and create things, or they come home sweaty from a game of neighborhood soccer. Our educational, nature and science toys with a special focus on scale-model animal and dinosaur replicas are big favorites with children. They love the fantasy play and the fun of creating their own world."
This concept of boredom is new territory at the beginning because children may be upset that they can't watch TV. They may also bicker with their siblings. Hess states, "Working or single parent households may have even more of a challenge, but he strongly encourages parents not to give in and flip on the TV, or let kids watch a video."
The lifelong benefits of unstructured play are so great that Hess urges parents to try to find an hour a week for it. And he offers these tips to make things easier:
Set Limits to TV and Video Play. There is something very wrong with the fact that many children watch an average of 38 hours per week. Cutting back can provide unstructured play time. Most parents and care takers passively allow the media to routinely expose kids to violence and sex when they would never let an individual, or educational institution expose their children to this type of content.
Far too many children spend hours each day at computers, playing with hand-held game devices, or watching videos. Hess suggests that parents set a firm daily limit to these activities. Hess says, "The value of a toy is simple to calculate...to what degree does the toy invite imagination and creativity? After a week, if you find that your child is more interested in playing with the toy box instead of the toy, you've wasted money and time."
Unstructured play time doesn't require a huge investment in new toys. Hess cites one focus group study where two boys were playing with toys. One girl had an electronically enhanced dinosaur and she boasted: "My dinosaur can say 500 words!" The other boy, who was holding a Safari dinosaur countered with: "My dino can say anything I want it to say and it looks like a real dino."
Hess states, "We hear so much about hyperactive children who are medicated as a result of this behavior. Is the child really hyperactive, or does the child simply need more unstructured play time? Children are free spirits and when that's denied, we see physical and mental manifstations that have a negative impact on a healthy childhood.
"Spend time watching your child play. This can show children that adults value their play," Hess says. It's not necessary to join in, although that's great fun too, as long as parents don't try to take over. In fact, one highly successful parenting strategy involves spending time each day with your child doing whatever he or she chooses to do."
During this "special time," the child makes the decisions, controls the flow of the play and assigns all roles. It's unstructured play time for your child, yet you get to participate. It's important for us to share time with children and it shows them that you value their play.
Hess encourages parents to give this bordom concept a serious try. He states, "Giving your children a break from organized activities and electronic baby-sitters could very well mean sentencing them to boredom, at least at first, but it will open up a whole new world of creativity, fun and adventure as it helps them expand their minds."
Alan Hess, president of Safari Ltd., has an extensive marketing background with a wide array of highly successful toy and hobby products. One of the key factors in his success is his understanding of child development research and his ability to apply that knowledge to product development.