Discussing ‘Free Play’ with your Babysitter

Photo by Shuto Araki on Unsplash


Excellent babysitters are rare, hard to find and harder still to keep. Whether you hire a sitter for a night out or to provide permanent daycare, letting them know what you expect is essential. It is confusing for children to have one set of rules for dad, another for mom, and ‘who is this stranger ordering me around?’ Whether your sitter is the kid next door or a fully vetted pro from an agency, everyone needs to be on the same page.


Instructions for Play and Games

If you are part of the free play movement, you may want to establish a serious limit on electronic games and television, and even encourage that the kids remain outdoors while it is light outside. You will probably get a somewhat panicked blank stare from your sitter. She realizes that if your kids can’t play on their phones, then neither can she.

First, explain the reasons you have for encouraging your children to indulge in a healthy amount of free play. What is free play? It’s the kind of frolicking that has no intervention from outside the child gang. They make the rules they want and change them if they feel the need. The kids invent stories and act out all the parts. They might get muddy. Their clothes might bear the traces of rolling on the lawn. All this is fine. Kids and clothes both wash up rather well.


Why Free Play Is Essential

In school, at church, in scouts, and certainly with mom and dad, children today are regimented. They learn the games that adults tell them to, stand straight as little soldiers going through the drills. Is it fun? Meh, not so much. Kids don’t learn much from the games we teach them except to follow orders.

Not long ago, children were completely in charge of their playtime. They made up the rules, adopted wild characters, braved the dangers of a big-game hunt, searched for ghosts. Perhaps you’re thinking these little kid games get in the way of real learning, but here you’d be 180 degrees from how kids’ brains develop.

Today, most of our children are overscheduled and overburdened. There’s no time left for pure play for fun. Free play is the name of the movement to reverse this trend. Psychologists and child welfare experts agree that children must indulge mainly in free play in the time set aside for recreation. Well, you ask, what about educational games, toys, and books. Isn’t that superior to playing tag or catching fireflies?

No, and let’s look at why that is so. Directing and supervising recreational activities or educational programs outside school hours often does just the opposite you are hoping.

It’s okay that someone lecture kids about animals and the eco-system, but how much richer when this learning is backed-up by hands-on experiential learning? When kids are undirected, they get to learn and explore at their own pace, following their own thoughts and wonder, and testing their own theories.

There are also a ton of physical benefits. Whether they are out on foot or riding a scooter (yup, they are still as popular as ever!), kids will explore their outdoor environments using their entire body.

If dad wants to build a treehouse, let the kids design it. If the kids come up with ideas like using four different colors of paint, fine. If they want to use brads instead of screws, dad can show them the difference and why screws work better for the job.

The point is that adults can be present and an active part of free play, however, they should never take the role of the director. Here are some great ways to encourage free play as part of your children’s daily lives.


Bringing in the Babysitter


This isn’t about burdening your babysitter with additional tasks. Quite the opposite. It’s about empowering them with the understanding of undirected play and it’s incredible benefits. It’s letting them know that you’d like their support in creating space for it in your kids’ lives. Often, it’s more about slowing down and doing less, not more. And, just maybe, bedtime will be easier. Afterall, free play is tiring stuff!



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