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 why it is important, and how we can help as parents, or people looking after children can encourage free play to happen.
“Free play is unstructured, voluntary, child initiated activity that allows children to develop their imaginations while exploring and experiencing the world around them. It is the spontaneous play that comes naturally from children’s natural curiosity, love of discovery, and enthusiasm.” (pgpedia.com)
Why Should We Encourage 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.
“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)
7 Ways To Encourage Free Play:
- Have open ended toys. Less toys with predetermined roles.
- Get outdoors. There are all sorts of loose parts out there just waiting to be played with, with no pre determined roles.
- Let them have access to craft supplies. This can be a bit of a nightmare if you are adverse to quite a bit of chaos, but if you can do it, watch them dive in and start creating. I have taught them some good cleaning up skills as well through allowing this 😉
- Decrease scheduled activities. Children do a lot of scheduled activities now which are directed. They need time without these activities so they can be undirected.
- Following on from point four, allow time for play. Make sure there is space in the day so the children can play. Protect that time for them as well. Parents are ultimately in charge of the family diary.
- Let them be bored and don’t fear it. Yes it may take some getting used to for them initially, and you may hear a few moans, but just let them know you are excited to see what they come up with, and leave them to it.
- Decrease screen time opportunities, so they need to go off and initiate play activities themselves.
I hope you have enjoyed finding out about the benefits of free play and ways in which we as the grown ups can encourage free play to 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!