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Top 5 'real play' tips to enhance kids' development

"DIRT goes, but growth stays" is the message psychologist Suzy Green has for parents.

Research commissioned as part Omo's Dirt is Good campaign revealed only half of children today get more than one hour of unstructured, imaginative play, or 'real play', each day.

When asked the other reasons as to why real play was not high on the agenda, parents cited working long hours, time poverty and their child's involvement in structured extra-curricular activities.

33% of parents also admitted feeling pressured by other parents to be 'perfect', which drove them away from activities where kids might get messy or dirty.

As a mother of two, Dr Green knows too well that parents can face pressures to juggle their child's schedules but said we must place significant weighting on real play, now more than ever, to ensure children grow into happy and well-developed adults.

Here are Dr Green's top five real play tips:

1. Be committed: Commit to creating opportunities for more free play time. That might mean dropping one or two structured activities from your child's weekly timetable. Try focusing on the benefits of what you and your child will gain from doing less, rather than more. Remember unstructured free play allows children to be imaginative, creative and resourceful.

2. Be creative: Talk to other parents about what activities they loved doing as kids or what their kids do for real play. Brainstorm a list of real play activities with your kids put it up on the fridge. Try to ensure there's opportunity for playing outdoors too if possible as research suggests that nature has a powerful impact on our wellbeing.

3. Be imaginative: Use real play moments such as building a cubby house with your kids to tap into their imagination. Put together a "treasure chest" of outfits and props that they might need for imaginary play. And whilst the outdoors is perfect for real play, don't let living in an apartment stop you from using your imagination. There's no reason why you can't make mud pies indoors!

4. Be childlike: Spend some time positively reminiscing on what it was like to be a child yourself. What were the activities that you loved to do, and which didn't involve a parent? By sharing your favourite memories with your kids, they might also want to discover how much fun these activities can be!

5. Be authentic, not perfect. Remember it's not about being a 'perfect' parent. It's not about wasting hours trying to locate the 'perfect' tree for your child to climb; it's about celebrating the everyday messy moments as much as the pristine ones. No one will judge you; they'll be glad that they are not the only ones making mistakes! Real play is about living spontaneously; using what is in our natural environment and igniting our kid's imaginations to discover and explore. Let your kids take the lead on free play, even if that means they'll get a little messy or dirty. Remember, dirt goes, but growth stays. 



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