Free Play, It’s Important and Your Kids Need it

make time for children to have free play

“As schools shrink recess periods and more children take on organized after-school activities; parents and educators may need to consider ways to make time for children to have free play.”

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Yesterday, I saw this article by Sarah D. Sparks. In it, she explains how the general perception about the need of free play has changed. If you have kids, you should definitely read it. The article highlights how unorganized play time has been replaced with more screen time. A Gallop survey found that nearly all kids have more screen time than the recommended number of hours. Some interesting statistics that Sarah quotes from the Gallop survey are:

  1. Two to ten year olds got more screen time than they did for any time of indoor or outdoor free play.

  2. Parents were more likely to push for organized sports while children wanted more television and video game time.

  3. Parents consider self-confidence, social skills, and academic skills as the most critical for children to develop by the time they are ten, and they associate these skills with organized sports and structured activities.


Free play is important and your kids need it


What skills are more important for our kids- Self-confidence, social skills, and academic skills or creativity?

According to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, “Not valuing creativity and problem-solving enough is even more problematic, given that the workplace is putting even more value on [those skills]. …”

Kathy further argues that both free play and organized activities can help develop children’s confidence, social skills, and problem-solving. Whereas structured activities help students learn the skills of strategizing and making informed selections in well-defined settings; free play teaches students the art of dealing with problems with no prescribed solutions.

Related: Playing it safe is not OK: The Shocking Truth about Creativity

I agree with both. Unstructured play is really important. Free play is the time when kids learn to use their imagination. It’s during these hours kids learn to deal with novel situations- a skill that cannot be spoon-fed. Free play can help develop memory, creativity, resilience, self-esteem and observational skills too.

As per Vincent Lannelli, free play is important for the healthy development of the brain. He lists a few benefits in his article The importance of free play.

Following is a list of the major benefits of free play

  1. Kids move from adult support towards independence.

  2. Children are forced to use their knowledge, and explore their imagination.

  3. Free play teaches kids to express themselves.

  4. They learn to struggle with everyday social issues, such as sharing resources, dealing with conflicts, negotiating turns, etc.

  5. Communication skills get better.

  6. Kids learn to explore their surroundings, and discover new items.

  7. Physical activities help prevent obesity.

  8. Social and emotional connections become stronger.

  9. Kids learn to fight their fears.

  10. Kids learn to value themselves and their beliefs.


What is Free Play?

Simply put, free play is unscheduled, unsupervised playtime. It’s playtime in which kids choose what they do, how to do it, and for how long they do it. Equally important, there are no impositions from adults – no goals, no restrictions, and no curriculum.

In my opinion, free play is an essential part of childhood. Think of students who show a higher sense of social responsibility towards the community- How did they learn to be so responsible? Now, think about the students who show an access of anti-social behavior– what did they miss?

Yes, free play isn’t the only way to learn. However, if it helps the kids become independent, develop creativity, and learn social skills; it sure is going to affect the later part of their lives.

In our upcoming posts, we’ll talk more about free play, and how parents and teachers can use it to advance skill development.

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