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Why is Free Play So Important?

free play

Children are designed to play. Whenever left up to their own devices, you’ll find that they gravitate towards play. This is because it is one of the main ways in which they learn and begin to understand the world. Let’s take a look at what free play is and why play in general is so important to children and their development.

Why is Play Important?

With children nowadays having less opportunity to play, we should really define exactly how important play is for children to learn and grow. It is not only advantageous to implement but the lack of play opportunities is  detrimental to children. The lack of play affects emotional development which can lead to the rise of anxiety, depression, and problems of attention and self-control. Without play, young people fail to acquire the social and emotional skills necessary for healthy psychological development.

Alongside this are the obvious physiological benefits. Play is often physical and will help develop motor skills. If they are team-based or group-based games then they help develop both physical and social skills in children.

What is Free Play?

To understand why it is so important, we must first understand what it is and what the principles that define it are. When looking at the various styles of play and theory behind them, there are always rules and goals they wish to achieve. 

Free play is no different and it aims to holistically develop children. It is described by Play England as children choosing what they want to do, how they want to do it and when to stop and try something else. Free play has no external goals set by adults and has no adult imposed curriculum. Although adults usually provide the space and resources for free play and might be involved, the child takes the lead and the adults respond to cues from the child. 

While we will focus on children in this piece, it is not exclusive to early years learners. Free Play is the creative activity of spontaneous free improvisation, by children, by artists, and people of all kinds. So maybe you should apply some of these practises yourself. 

The Importance of Free Play

As mentioned before, play is important to help children to become emotionally and physically healthy human beings but why is free play important? Free play allows children a chance to play without guidance, therefore developing a lot of their skills independently. It is vital to allow children to explore through play to help them develop. 

In fact, the need for unstructured play in the life of children is so important for optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.

The Benefits of Free Play

So let’s look at some of the benefits of free play in more detail. There are a huge number of benefits for those young and old. It can be broken down into some key categories that both teachers and schools look for. 

Free Play Encourages Creativity

Free play encourages children to develop their imagination while using their creativity. When given a huge number of different stimuli with no plan from teachers, it forces students to think creatively and make their own fun. Children’s brains thrive on a challenge so this will really help them. 

They will explore different materials and their properties, and use their knowledge of what they have discovered to play imaginatively. This can be done on their own or in groups. When students think up new games with the objects at their disposal, this is a form of creativity, especially when they make up a game using none of the equipment such as role play. 

Free Play Improves Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills

Similar to creativity, free play allows children to develop problem-solving. Problem-solving and creativity are often linked as they involve thinking outside of the box. Whether they overcome problems on their own through construction based games and movement or do so in a group setting by navigating games or group disputes. 

The key here is for adults to stay out of the process and allow children to work things out themselves or together in a group. Obviously intervene if it is serious but they should be allowed to go through trial and error to get to their desired end result. If they are in a group, learning to negotiate and deal with conflict by finding a solution to a problem with other students is a great way to demonstrate problem-solving. 

Free Play Develops Students Physically

Free play is the perfect opportunity to develop physically. It develops motor skills as children run, jump, and chase outdoors and play on a well-equipped playground. Swinging freely on overhead playground equipment develops upper body strength as well as agility, balance, eye-hand coordination, and fitness. Free play in outdoor activities engages more motor behaviours than in structured physical education classes.

Free Play Improves Social and Communication Skills

This links to the above point, where students have to negotiate conflicts together. This isn’t the only way that students develop social and communication skills, however. There are lots of opportunities for students to engage in free play collaboratively. 

This is often done through role play and pretending. It helps them understand the world better as they embody a number of different people in different scenarios. This develops social skills as they can create experiences that will help them to understand how society works and how to interact with other people.

This form of Free Play is an essential tool for allowing children to develop a sense of who they are and to value the thoughts and feelings of others. It also helps them to maintain emotional balance and sound mental health and well-being.

How to Practice Free Play

While the purpose of free play is to play freely without imposed rules set by adults, there should still be some planning and facilitating to ensure children get enough out of the time. It does not have to be as rigorously planned as regular structured activities but there are some things you should consider.

As mentioned before, while there is no adult imposed curriculum, adults provide the space and the resources in which they carry out free play. The space should be varied and full of stimulus for children to explore and interact with. 

Examples of Free Play

True free play involves any kind of unstructured activity that encourages children to use their imagination, such as playing with blocks, dolls, and toy cars. It wouldn’t include playing with most electronic toys.

A group of children playing football in the backyard together versus playing on a team with a coach would be another good example of free playtime. This type of active free play is also a good way to help children meet their daily physical activity requirements. More examples of free play include:

  • Playing on playground equipment, climbing, swinging, running around
  • Drawing, colouring, painting, cutting, and glueing with art supplies
  • Playing make-believe and dress-up
  • Reading and looking at books they enjoy, not as part of homework or study

Encourage Free Play at Your School

Does this sound like something your school can implement? We at Red Monkey Play can help complement your teachers perfectly and elevate your students to the next level.

Experience on our website all the success we’ve had with our playground design. We have a truly bespoke and consultative approach to playground design. With a range of different play equipment options, including role play school equipment and outdoor wooden climbing frame options. 

Check out our bespoke playground design case studies to see for yourself. We’ll make the perfect outdoor classroom for you!

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