Why Your Kids Need Free Play
Free play is a term that gets tossed around frequently by pediatricians and child development specialists, one that gives a name to something children tend to do naturally – using their vivid imaginations. It’s an important part of growing up that all kids require to thrive, but parents may be left wondering about the correct parameters to define something that can seem conceptually vague. So, we’re left asking, what exactly IS free play – and why is it so essential to our kids?
What is Free Play?
When kids are exploring the world, getting their hands dirty, coming up with unique ideas, turning pots and pans into drums and turning that hollow spot in the hedge row into their password-protected secret fort, they’re engaging in free play. It’s the kind of stuff that most kids naturally do when they’re not being directly supervised or guided.
True free play revolves around the idea that kids have decided, on their own, to interact with their environment without toys that can only be used one way or prompting from an adult. Because kids want to learn and explore and feel confident when they improve skills, they tend to gravitate toward this play style automatically when given independent play time without one-note toys and screens.
Why Does Free Play Benefit Kids?
Free play isn’t hard to achieve, but what makes it so essential? Learning new things by making independent discoveries helps to foster confidence and intellectual curiosity in children, who thrive on feeling good about unaided accomplishments. It allows them to develop and improve social skills as they share their ideas and creative thoughts with others, engaging with them in a way that demonstrates compromise and helps them to understand that other people’s unique perspectives and contributions are also valuable.
Frequently, when kids are engaging in free play, they’re benefiting via both fine and gross motor skill games. Free playing often includes climbing, jumping, running and other physical activities that require kids to use a full range of motion. This helps to develop the natural inclination to enjoy being active and avoid a sedentary lifestyle. In people of all ages, physical exercise benefits the heart, lungs, circulatory system and mental health.
Cognitive development also sees great benefit from kids’ engagement in free play, as they use cause and effect as well as trial and error to develop and test theories, learning from their experiences and refining failed attempts. It gives kids a chance to think critically and examine a problem from all sides rather than having it explained to them, encouraging rudimentary scientific thinking. In short – free play helps them feel good about themselves, socialize more effectively and apply logic in everyday situations.
How Can I Encourage Free Play?
One of the absolute best ways to encourage free play is to turn off the devices. Trust me, we KNOW it’s hard – when you can’t resist the temptation to scroll your social media feeds twice a minute, how can we tell the kids to get off YouTube and go out and play? The answer is easy. Get outside with them! Grab a lawn chair, an iced tea and a good book and let them explore. They might get a little messy, mama, but that’s what the washing machine is for (and we won’t tell anyone if you sneak a peak at your texts once they’re distracted!).
Outdoor space isn’t essential for free play, though – there’s a lot kids can do inside. Put away the electronic toys and board games, just for now. They’re not bad, they’re just not free play friendly! There are plenty of fun indoor toys that are, though. Building sets with blocks encourage kids to make unique structures. Art supplies encourage them to experiment and create their own beautiful pieces. Dolls
and action figures with accessories can be great at facilitating storytelling and pretending
As parents, we want our kids to have every opportunity to develop into healthy, happy people. When it comes to finding ways to facilitate free play, this can often mean taking the time to simplify. Trading toys with one purpose, video games and indoor activities for outdoor time with others and opportunities to create can offer your kiddos physical, social and cognitive benefits that will make both of you feel good.