I used to pride myself on my kids ability to make believe and play with just about nothing but the great outdoors or indoors. Kids don't need very much to be happy and content. Mostly they don't need to be in contact with adults constantly to be content.
Our family does have the luxury of living in the middle of ten acres of over half woods and some meadow. Ever since our oldest was a small child, I can remember putting a sand box outside the living room window and our toddler basically lived in that sandbox while I read a book and saw her head bobbing around. She didn't care where I was as she was in her little world of imagination. She would play for hours and then......I would read to her and she would take her nap....and then start the cycle all over again.
We have nine children total, which isn't necessarily relative to to the topic, but all of them have basically disappeared to their play land for most of their free time. As small children they were loaded with free time. Countless people have commented to me at one time or another the kids ability to just be content by themselves without my involvement.
Last week, my second to last child, took me on a delightful romp through our woods. She showed me all her favorite haunts which frankly I wasn't aware existed. My seeming neglect or lack of supervision, produced forts which were in their third or fourth stage of redesign by her and her sibs. Her older sibs had also built and rebuilt forts in the woods. She described the walking bridge they had created at the bottom of slippery hill and then showed me the remains of a foundation I didn't even know existed after twenty four years of living here! This bridge had also undergone renovations as some logs rot you know.
I loved how she reminisced about her years in the woods. It was a world to me that perhaps I can be sorry I wasn't as aware of but on the other hand it is their world. When I dismiss the kids from their home educated world they frankly stop school in my world and then enter their own school of play.
Another area she described as one of her favorites for all the mushrooms they find there. She is seven mind you, and the mushroom world is one of her favorites! Where is MY mushroom world!? I need a mushroom world! This world will last her young life. It can extend through the knowledge gained in observation into her adult life. She experiences things most people will never ever have a chance to experience, mainly because she was given the chance to play and explore on her own and with her sibs.
Lately the collaborative playing has been as Minute Men fighting the British all over the yard. The book we read together is now live action in the yard without my meddling. I pondered meddling when the Minute Men started bickering together but I thought better of it and left them to their own devices.
For all the panicking I've done through my parenting years as to whether I am teaching them everything I 'should' I really needn't worry too much about it. My kids are thriving, know how to work hard, and have so many childhood tales of their adventures. When they are released from my clutches of reading, math, etc., they disappear into their world for hours and hours. I am happy for them. My fifteen year old still swings on the swing set and loves it.
So.....I encourage parents to encourage free play time outside as you can. I know some people don't have that luxury due to apartment living, city living, so go camping! Get out of sterile plugged in lives and get the kids outside to play with what is there.