Your tot can think out of the box — really

So you want to let your child develop into an independent, creative thinker — but how and where? We went to some early-childhood specialists for answers…


At Republic Polytechnic’s Kinderland infant- and toddlercare facility, children are exploring free play with picking up various toys, in addition to climbing up and sliding down from an indoor loft.

Charlotte Wong (CW), senior manager at Kinderland, Rebecca Goh-Quek (RG), Kinderland education specialist, and Denise Wong (DW), Crestar marketing communications manager, fielded SmartParents’ questions on free play as the staff kept a close eye on the tots.

Where should you let kids just play freely?

CW: The thing is to provide them with a protected environment — ensure that there are no sharp corners, no dangerous wires, nothing that they can hurt themselves badly with — that’s important.

But it’s also vital to just be there for your child. To be near enough…but if they should fall, what harm will befall them? Is what they’re going to learn [from the fall or accident] a lot more beneficial than the harm?

As a parent, you adjust how close you need to be; for instance Kinderland’s infantcare area is padded and the toddlers’ loft is carpeted — your distance could be a bit further. Because if a parent is too near to the infant, the infant would be aware of it and won’t feel comfortable to explore. But if it is a totally new environment then, of course, my distance would be nearer.

“As parents, our role is to provide them with a lot of opportunities.”

That sounds contrary to every kiasu parent’s existence…

CW: It’s what [the kids are] going to learn — to stand up, help themselves back up. You must remember that by doing that, they can be independent! So, if they should fall outside when you’re not there — you cannot guarantee that you’re there all the time — then it’s a survival skill!

How do you know if your child is ready?

CW: If you observe a toddler who’s just starting to explore a climbing structure — some, more confident, may go up to the top. But another stays at the first step. That child doesn’t feel ready for the second step and up… As parents, I think we have to observe this. If the child is not comfortable or they are just exploring the new environment, let the child be. Do not push them by telling them “Go! Go! Go!” Give them time, they know their limits.

Of course if they’re trying to move further, give them some encouragement. Say things like, “Oh you want to try! Why don’t you give it a try?”

As parents, our role is to provide them with a lot of opportunities. So, if I’m a parent who just wants to stay indoors, then my child might not want to go outdoors and explore. But if I give my child many different opportunities — one day we try to roller blade then another day play ball…even if you’re not good at it, it’s fine.

Click on for tips on finding time to let junior play freely, and see what they can learn…