“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but to children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” (Fred Rogers)
Free play is something that we prioritise for our children, and we find very important. We find it re-centres our three, and allows them to “just be”. Children these days have a lot of structure in their lives. There is structure during the school day, there are after school activities, and there are a lot of screens to be used. Add that in together with an increased reluctance to allow our children to take risks and decreased time for unrestricted outdoor play , free play is in danger of becoming a lost activity for our children. This post discusses what free play is, why it is important, and how we can help as parents, or people looking after children, to provide opportunities for it to happen.
What Is Free Play?
Free play is totally unstructured and a fully child initiated form of play. This child led experience is a spontaneous activity born out of an interest, curiosity, or enthusiasm about something they want to pursue further. Their imaginations take them wherever they want to go, with lots of motivation and learning along the way. It is a simple form of play that does not require complicated gadgets or electronic toys, just whatever is to hand, whether that be a stick or a doll.
Why Do Children Need Free Play?
- Free play leads to increased enthusiasm and motivation as they are following their own interests and curiosity, rather than something predetermined by an adult.
- It is a very important learning method through self discovery.
- It decreases anxiety and stress: Fight or flight pathways are activated during play (same pathways that are activated by stress), so they get exposed to stress but in a positive way. This in turn makes them less responsive to stress and they can regulate it more effectively.
- It helps develop social and emotional connections
- It increases a child’s resilience.
- Teaches the child good negotiation skills if the play involves other children.
- Following on from the negotiation skills, it can then teach them to compromise and adapt.
- It uses their imaginations and leads to increased creativity.
- Due to using their own initiative, it helps improve problem solving skills.
- It increases their confidence as they engage in new experiences.
How Can We Provide Free Play Opportunities?
- Fancy dress boxes: You needn’t spend a fortune on outfits. Mine have collected a few over the years, but a lot of their outfits are old bridesmaid dresses, dance costumes of mine, or old hats, scarves, and shoes. They love dressing up and then making up a scenario to go with it.
- Have less toys with electronic functions, or predetermined functions, but instead allow more for the child’s imagination to take over.
- Less parental intervention or suggestions, less coached activities, and less screen time.
- Provide protected time for free play to actually happen. If it has been a hectic week with commitments, scale down the scheduled activities and let them play.
- Take them to outdoor spaces, and then allow them time to have free play in that environment. For example, on beaches or in woods. Sit and watch the play take over when you give them the time. If you don’t walk as far that day in the woods because a “campfire” needs to be made or a den built, or a river-let of water “fished” in, come back another day. They will have learnt more from having the time to play rather than being moved on because a trail needed to be walked.
- If you are taking a circular walk, allow more time than needed. This then allows them time to investigate and play with chunks of ice, or admire a ladybird.
- At home, leave craft supplies out, and see where their creativity leads them into with what is left out.
- At play parks allow them to determine how to use the equipment. If the game involves walking up the slide (as long as no one wants to come down) it isn’t harming anyone. As adults we think we know how equipment should be used, but stand back and let the professionals show you 🙂
- Allow for boredom…..don’t fill it in!
I hope you have enjoyed finding out about the benefits of free play and ways in which we as the grown ups can make this happen. There are benefits for us as well…..life is slower. There are less scheduled commitments, we feel less like a taxi driver, pulled in multiple directions, and there is less stress in our daily living due to being less busy 🙂 It is a win for everyone!
Lyckå slottsruin is a medieval reminder that this southern county of Sweden, Blekinge, has not always belonged to the Swedish, but the Danes were once in possession of the land. What you can visit today and see are the original outer walls of the ground floor and the foundations of the two corner towers.
Lyckå slott was built between 1545 to 1560, and was a Danish border castle on the most eastern part of Denmark as a defence against Sweden. The castle did not have a very long life as in 1601 it was decided the Danes would fortify a town called Kristianopel, but wanted to use the materials from Lyckå slott. So, it was burnt down and had canon balls thrown at it to demolish it. It just goes to show how sturdy it was with the amount that remained intact. In 2014 there was some work done on the ruins to preserve what was left, as it has big historical importance.
We arrived at Lyckå slott to find we had the place to ourselves, and although it is something that only takes a short while to walk around, you need to leave ample time for your children to play there. There is lots of fun to be hand clambering over the walls, running round the outside, and inventing lots of imaginative games. In the depths of winter, as was our visit, there was lots of play time allowed, but perhaps not as much as if we had visited in warmer weather when I could have relaxed on the grass listening to their games!
Our three really enjoyed their time there, and I find they get so much more out of places and remember it better when they are able to run freely, touch, and use a whole host of senses to experience a place, rather than visit it in a clinical manner. We have now discovered and been to another local place of interest as we learn more about the area we are living in.
This fruity breakfast porridge makes a good start to any day, whether hiking, camping, or even in the kitchen at home 🙂 It is fruity, tasty, and healthy, and it certainly warmed me up the day I cooked it!
Ingredients for Raspberry And Coconut Porridge
This will make one serving, so just multiply the ingredients by how many people you have….it makes a decent portion size too.
1 cup of oats.
1 cup of coconut milk – add more if it becomes too stiff, but one was fine for me.
Handful of raspberries – mine were frozen, but to be honest if I’d taken fresh out that day they would have frozen anyway!!
1 teaspoon vanilla essence.
Method For Making Raspberry And Coconut Porridge
- Pour in coconut milk and add oats.
- Stir until warm.
- Add raspberries and stir until mushy, then add in the vanilla essence. At this point you can add desiccated coconut if desired. One of our trio doesn’t like strongly flavoured coconut food so we didn’t.
- Serve into a bowl and sprinkle cocoa over the top, but make sure it isn’t windy or else you might just end up wearing it!!!
Wämöparken is set in beautiful Swedish nature on the outskirts of Karlskrona, in Blekinge county in southern Sweden. There is so much to see and do there, at your own pace, or doing a little bit over a few visits. This is a place to dwell, not rush, and if you do not get to experience everything on one day, then it is the perfect excuse to return to Wämöparken. We decided one cold (-8 degrees) snowy, February day to visit, so we are definitely going to head back in the warmer months to experience another season in Wämöparken.
Although Wämöparken was once the site of a cemetery for victims of the plague, and also the site where executions were carried out for those who were sentenced to death, it now has an altogether much nicer purpose, allowing people to relax enjoying the outdoors as well as experiencing a little bit of Swedish history. So what does the park have to offer?
Wämöparken Hiking Trails
The hiking trails around the area can be tailor-made to be longer or shorter for those less able to walk as far, but still wanting to get out into nature. The trail marked with wooden poles with orange tips is accessible for pushchairs and wheelchair users. We enjoyed using this trail at first, before heading in our own direction a little, using the smaller paths through the woods. Although there are several fire pit points along the main trail, we opted for a quieter spot where the children could play in amongst the trees and on the rocks, and we used our hobo stove. We had a lovely sausage hotpot followed by Nutella s’mores….yummy!!!
Wämöparken Historical Buildings
The park has several old buildings erected as examples of what they used to be. At each one there is a sign detailing what type of person would have lived in it, the purpose of the building, and how it would have been built. We definitely need to come back as these are open to view inside, but only over the summer season, which I knew, but we enjoyed looking around the outside of them anyway. My trio liked thinking about the sort of people who would have lived in them and the stories behind them.
Wämöparken Animal Park
There is a small collection of some lovely animals to have a wander around. We saw goats, pigs, hens, rabbits, and ducks. Whilst it is not a big collection or area, it is fun for the children to see and look at the animals, something that is always a hit with my trio.
Wämöparken Play Park
In the same area as the animals you can find a play park. My three really enjoyed this space. The see-saw was the biggest hit with them, and they were on it for ages!! I always visit things like this at the end of a hike if they are around. My trio knew it was there so it gave them a little something to look forward to, but then also, when they get totally absorbed in it I am not trying to cajole them into another mission.
If after a hike round the trails, a campfire meal, investigating the old buildings, pottering around visiting the animals, and a play in the park, you are in need of further refreshment, there is a cafe set in a beautiful old building. You can get hot and cold drinks, waffles and cakes, or a warm meal. We sampled their homemade cakes with some ginger beer and fruit juices. Perfect after a play in the play park. Outside the cafe there are also supersized board games on the patio. Due to the cold these were not out for us to use, nor could we even see the boards on the ground due to the snow….so no photos of these I am afraid!!
Wämöparken Dog Agility Course
The final facility at this lovely place, is a dog agility course. It is set in a large field and you can just turn up and use it. You need to show consideration for dogs and their owners already using it by getting their attention before you enter in order to prevent any unfriendly mishaps between canines. But as long as you respect others and clean up after you four legged friend, this is an amazing space for you to be able to enjoy with your fur baby. I know my border collie would have loved this space had he still been alive.
So, there you have the details about this amazing space called Wämöparken that we went and explored and thoroughly enjoyed. I can recommend enjoying either a whole day here in any season, as there is more than enough to keep you busy during the winter months too, or dipping in and out of the area for a few hours. It is most definitely a beautiful outdoor space that we will be returning too again and again.
Bastasjö is a lake that is the centre piece of the Bastasjö friluftsområde, outdoor area. It is very convenient being only about a 15 minute drive from the centre of the city of Karlskrona in the south of Sweden. It is a huge area of hiking trails around the surrounding woods. What makes this place so good for families are several things. There are a lot of marked trails in a variety of distances, so you can pick what you think you can manage. There are also good fire pits, surrounding the lake on all sides, allowing for you to build a campfire safely and cook in the great outdoors. At the side of the lake where the main car park is, there is also a building, which houses toilets. You can rent this out as well if you are running an activity in this location.
We arrived at Bastasjö in the depths of winter during the Swedish sportlov holiday, and although we were doing our own thing, it was interesting to see they had a “drop in” campfire with sausages cooking, everyday this holiday week from 10am until 1pm. They also had other activities, for example a night run and orienteering. There are illuminated trails, as well as ones you can use for cross country skiing when there is enough snow on the ground. We chose our trail, the blue one that skirted round the lake, spotting a fire pit that looked good at the half way point, and we set off.
We had travelled inland for about 20 minutes to reach Bastasjö, so there was still a fair amount of snow on the ground compared to what we had at home on the coast, so it made for a scenic walk. The lake was truly frozen over, and there were even some intrepid people having a mini ice hockey game on it…..but keeping very close to the edge still. They obviously did not trust the ice thickness that much. My trio were keen to use their binoculars to watch them (see my other tips for hiking with children). They have never known sea or lake ice so thick you can run, walk, or play on it. They were memorised. It all helped to take their minds off the fact they were hiking with backpacks, and were surprisingly perky! They were even surprised to find themselves at our chosen fire pit thinking the first part of the walk had gone fast, and I was quite surprised to find us there without any whinges of “I’m hungry”!
The children dropped their backpacks, and although the little lady announced she was doing the Kelly Kettle, all three raced off and suddenly starting constructing a den in the woods behind the fire pit. I was happy at my work in the peace and quiet sorting out a lunch of hot dogs and campfire toffee apples. Whilst I was busy, a lady who had seen us light the fire from the other side of the lake where the building is, had walked round and started taking photos….apparently she needed photos of people out enjoying the area with their children during sportlov! Once cooked, three hungry little den builders appeared and gobbled their food up. There was a lovely wooden shelter at this fire pit, and although it was not windy today and not such a painful experience to eat outdoors, it was lovely to be a little sheltered while we ate. I had not planned to stay at the fire pit for the whole 2 hours that we did, but the children were so happy climbing trees and den building, that I left them to it until they were ready to leave. Instead, I amused myself by trying to keep the fire going by using twigs from the ground, and although they were covered in snow I somehow managed, so was feeling quite pleased with myself!
Eventually the trio felt it was time to pack up and move off, and we set off to complete the trail and the loop around Bastasjö. They tested the limits of the ice on the lake intermittently and tried to break it with large rocks……no luck in breaking it though, it was really solid ice.
I would definitely recommend visiting this lovely outdoor area beside Bastasjö if you are in the area, and for us it will be fun to return in the summer and see a totally different looking place to the one we had experienced today. There are also geocaches in the area, but due to the cold, my phone battery dies very fast, so we never got to look for them today, so we will save those for the warmer months as well. Something to look forward to coming back for, as well as maybe different organised activities we could try next time.
Snow ice cream is the perfect way to use some of that cold white stuff up, and turn it into a tasty snack while you are out enjoying playing in the snow. With only four ingredients (although you can add more/different making various other flavours), snow ice cream is very simple and your little ones will love it!!
Ingredients For Snow Ice Cream
(This will serve 2)
Four cups of snow
One cup of preferred milk (we have made it both with cows milk and plant based milk for the vegan in our lives)
Quarter of a cup of sugar
Vanilla essence as preferred to taste
Method To Make Snow Ice Cream
- Get milk, vanilla, and sugar ingredients into the bowl.
- Put snow in and gently fold it into the mixture.
- Serve as preferred….we added sprinkles and sauce 🙂
Last month, I started uploading a monthly outdoor activity list which you can access under the freebies tab (with the password you get sent after subscribing to the blog). It is now time to think about the March outdoor activity list, which can now be accessed under the freebies tab 🙂 If you don’t have the password, don’t worry, subscribe to the blog and you will be sent it in your confirmation email.
Any form of getting children into the outdoors is a good one. Whether it is a gentle potter around the back garden, a good old hike for older ones across the countryside, if it is for 5 minutes or 5 hours, the benefits can still be reaped. As the author Richard Louv famously suggests, we should be using vitamin N (N for nature) as treatment for nature deficit disorder.
That is why each month, at the start of the month, I will add onto the freebies page, a monthly list of 10 activities to help inspire you to head out there for your dose of vitamin N with your little, or not so little, people. These are some of the things I do with my three to give me some direction and an aim for getting them out there, which often helps everyone’s frame of mind. So head over now to the freebies tab and check out the March outdoor activity list.
The aim behind the ideas for the March outdoor activity list for getting vitamin N is that they are all very simple, so shouldn’t put you off. And if you need a little more convincing about the ideas where mud is involved, head over and have a read as to why mud and dirt are worth all the extra effort 🙂 Vitamin N can be achieved without sitting in the middle of a forest, wild camping, and hunting for your supper!! It can be achieved by just stepping outside your front door (or back door), into whatever awaits you out there.
I am hoping through these activities that you make a lot of happy memories, have fun together, and enjoy being outside. If you need more information about an activity, I have blogged about doing most of them, so if you type in a few keywords in the search box, you should then be able to get some more information, or see what we have done in the past.
Let me know how you get on in the comments below for each month, I will love hearing about your experiences. You can also share your experiences on social media too, it will give others ideas and I can keep up with what you are all doing. Use the #fridayoutdoorfun on your instagram photos, and don’t forget to join in with our Friday outdoor fun thread (every Friday). And if the children have got mucky, then join in with our Mucky Mondays thread (every Monday) over on Facebook . Go and have fun in March 🙂