Notes From a Former “Hyper-Structured” Mom and Therapist

So, I basically live my life by two words: structure and organization. I organize the kids’ clothes for the week in  by day,  have individual lunch bags per child labeled for the week completed on Sunday night (I used to individually plate each dinner, too, but that became a little too exhausting and labor-intensive, what with my 3 kids, full-time job, etc.) I secretly become excited at the prospect of packing for a long trip, because I can allow my organization tendencies to go into over-drive! Yes, we go through a lot of plastic ziplocs.

My children know what their days look like (in a general sense), from the moment they wake up to the time they go to sleep. Routines and sleep schedules keep me SANE! It took me some time, along with my children getting a little older, to realize that I had to be a little more “flexible” in the rigidity of our schedule, especially when it came to their developmental play times.

I remember one dreary Sunday afternoon (you know the kind-if you don’t have children, you want to curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee; or if you do, you wish you could drop them off somewhere and do the same!), and the kids were asking where we were taking them. Now, we are a very active family. We often spend our Sundays going to science museums, parks, and other exciting places. For some reason, that day, we “just weren’t feeling it”. My husband looks to the three of them and says, “Go play.” The structured mom/OT (gotta -think- what -activities-will-work-on-what)part of me cringed, but I held my tongue, and watched to see what would happen.

The three kids darted off to my son’s room, giggling with excitement, passing by the magnatiles, blocks, legos, and art station. After a few minutes of hushed whispers, my eldest daughter comes out, the group representative, asking for the following materials: a sheet and a camera. With a little bit of my husband’s help initially, they set up an amazing photo shoot and took turns being professional photographers! The imaginative play that took place out of a digital camera and a simple bed sheet was creative, complex, and took my breath away. They played for at least 2 hours!

I truly believe that children need ample opportunities to engage in free and (gulp) unstructured creative play. The complex cognitive processes that they are working on, along with social skills, self-concept, and abstract thinking skills are crucial developmental components that many children don’t get enough opportunity for.

Consider this challenge for yourself (whether you are a parent, teacher, or therapist): allot a certain amount of time per day/week/month that you will set aside for your child/ren to further develop these skills. See what fantastic ideas they can come up with!image

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