“Children are designed, by natural selection, to play,” “Wherever children are free to play, they do.” – Peter Gray, Ph.D.
Free Play – Have you noticed that sometimes kids get engaged in some random activity with a set of material. You will find them immersed and engrossed in it. They are relatively silent. But, when you observer them they show such level of focus as if they are on a mission.
I understand that this will peak your interest to know what they are doing. However, the best things to do at that point in time is to leave them to it. While you enjoy the bliss of temporary silence. What your child is doing is engaging in free play.
Note: Make sure kids are in a safe environment. Playing with non-hazardous material.
- What is Free Play – Definition
- Characteristics of free play
- Importance of Free Play
- Benefits of Free Play Explained
- Activities and ideas
- Note to Parents with Tips
What is Free Play – Definition
As the name suggests Free play is an unstructured, child – initiated and child lead, open ended play. There are no rules or outcomes or set material / tools to be used in the play.
It is unique and spontaneous. Born out of the child’s imagination and can take any direction basis child’s curiosity and creativity.
Characteristics of free play
Free play is Spontaneous play. The main characteristics of free play is that it is initiated by the child. It is lead by the child. There is no adult intervention. (Note: Adult supervision is recommended)
There are no set materials given to the child to play. It has no rules or structure or time-frame. It is not outcome-based play like that of a game or puzzles.
The entire play is orchestrated by the child. The materials are used freely to the child’s imagination. It may or maynot be for its conventional use. E.g. A piece of paper can be used as a magic carpet and a spoon as a magic wand.
Free play can be played indoor or outdoor. A good example of outdoor free play is kids playing in sand.
Note : While we did mention characteristics of free play is child initiated and child lead. This does not mean watching TV or other types of passive play though they are initiated (most of the time insisted if not demanded) by kids.
Importance of Free Play
There are numerous studies on free play. All of them points to the importance of such play for overall development of the child and its brain.
- Motor Skill (Gross & Fine) development and Hand eye coordination
- Expands imagination and creativity
- Promotes in social development
- Fosters problem-solving and decision-making skills
- Develops linguistic ability
- Increases world awareness
- Build good self-image and high self confidence
. And the list goes on…
Benefits of Free Play – Explained
Motor Skill (Gross & Fine) development and Hand eye coordination
Kids can engage in free play both indoors or outdoors. Outdoor activities such as playing in the park, running, jumping, sliding, lifting, sea saw, climbing etc..
This increases gross motor skills, body strength, stamina, body balance and over all fitness of the child.
Playing indoors with loose part materials. Toys, clay, paints etc not only increases focus, concentration but also on fine motor skills, dexterity, and hand – eye coordination.
Expands imagination and creativity
As fee play is a spontaneous play. When child starts to engage in free play, the child uses its own imagination and creativity in the play. The child is the the author of the play.
The play is envisioned and executed from scratch by the kid. Such activity repeated religiously for long periods and many instances foundation of brain development happens for imagination and creativity.
E.g. One of the examples of free play is symbolic play. Here the child tends to enact a symbolic representation of the day today activity. Such as, serving tea/ snacks or feeding dolls.
Promotes in Independence and social development
Free play can happen independently or in groups. It is a common sight to see in playground kids playing together. Games like peek-a-boo, run and catch etc.
At the same time in the same playground you will find some children play on their own. Activities like building sand castles or plain running, hopping, jumping on their own.
By giving your child regular opportunity to engage in Free Play you will find that they use both independent and group plays based on their interest of the day.
In social play children choose their own play partners and they learn to communicate, socialise, invent a game and play. Children learn social skills such as sharing, listening, caring and play along as peers.
Fosters problem-solving and decision-making skills
In free social play children learn through play-based learning to communicate, socialise, and negotiate and deal with conflicts. While parents can get a bit forbearing and want to interfere.
We suggest for the betterment of your child to be equipped well in skills needed in adult life, we let the child well during early childhood itself deal, negotiate and resolve conflict by themselves.
All forms of free play involve children to make decisions between different challenges their play presents to them. Such as .. should they play here or there, which material to use, what does that material look like to them, should they use this one or that one etc.
In the same way as the play progresses, they encounter obstacles where they need agility and quick thinking to solve the problem in hand. Like a sudden need for excess material, or a material once thought to fit the part does not fit.
They think so what next, what to use when, how to dress up if they are playing pretend play etc. These play light up the child’s brain and engages them through and through.
Note: The child encounters such situations and learns to naturally man-over through them in early childhood itself. In long run these skills come to practical use as they encounter real life challenges.
Develops linguistic ability
When children play or interact with adults, the child will be are forced to communicate. They need to explain their work or communicate the play to gain acceptance and participation from their peers.
As a group when they explore new scenarios or rules they try to converse and learn through play based learning . This forms the fundamentals of effective conversation which is timing to listen, to speak to pause etc.
This not only helps in development of their social skills but also their language (listing and speaking). These skills develop in leaps and bounds long with their vocabulary. In time as their communication becomes effective, they start to toy with articulation and moderation to convey the same message.
Increases world awareness
Free play drastically increased a child’s world awareness. Pretend play, role-play such are types of free play.
E.g. In role play your child enacts a scene in real life. Such as going to school, or hospital visit, attending a party, going for shopping.
They enact adult life situation where they act as adults, express they emotions, communicate. When they get successful and accepted it de-mystifies the role and helps them prepare for adult life and the social structures.
In pretend play they pretend to be a character (real life or fictitious).They enact the perceived quality or traits or duties of the character. This brings about awareness of the world and expands their understanding of the same.
Build good self-image and high self confidence
Since free play is child directed and child lead play. The children have better control of their play and man-over their play to the outcome they have set for themselves. On reaching the desired outcome they feel a sense of achievement and pride.
When in a group they are able to finally archives the outcome the group has invented and worked towards they kids feel a sense of belonging and comradeship and acceptance of self.
Their thoughts, feeling and that of others and valuing the same develops. This helps them in their emotional and mental wellbeing.
It also increases the child’s self-image and self-confidence. When the kid achieves successful outcomes in a group his/ her self-worth is also reinforced.
Free play activities or ideas
There are many types of play. Play theorist, Bob Hughes, has identified sixteen types of play. Some of them such as role play, pretend play, symbolic play, creative play, loco-motor. Play can be classified as free play.
Anything and everything that is child lead and child initiated comes under free play. Except playing with electronic toys or screen time. It can be one or a combination of things. E.g. making doll sit, molding clay as a spoon and feeding the doll while dressed up as a princess.
In short there are no real ideas that can be given. The basis of free play is that it should not have adult intervention.
However, the only idea that can be given is to ensure that the right environment is created.
Environment that is relaxed and nonthreatening and you become an invisible supervisor.
The kids will do the entertaining themselves as they are instinctively highly motivated to play.
Note to Parents with Tips on Free Play
Play is recognized as the right of every child’ ~ by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.
We understand that with smaller family setup. With both parents working it becomes a bit difficult to care for children. To nudge them to engage in free play . Esp. with the temptation of TV or video games or mobile always lurking around and easily accessible.
These days there is lot of pressure put on parents from schools / peers/ neighbors or family for academic excellence. Or by enrichment hobbies like playing chess or piano etc (while these also have their benefits).
We understand that the little time left in the day goes into these because most parents unassumingly consider free play as a non-productive activity of a waste of time.
However, the myth that free play is non-productive, and waste of time activity is far from true.
To encourage you to engage your kid in free play we have listed below few practical tips that can help you incorporate free play in your kid’s schedule.
Tips for parents
- Make a conscious effort to unclutter your kids time and not to over-schedule their time.
- It will be good to make sure that our kids are given at least an hour every alternate day is given to kids with no gadgets, targets, or academic goals.
- Yes! Kids will complain of boredom, they will cling and irritate you. Let me assure you it is only a temporary phase once they get used to the pattern they will soon learn to entertain themselves.
- When we allocate such time we need to also ensure that such time is given when they are alert and active. Not after a very tiring and hectic day where it becomes natural for kids to feel less motivated to be imaginative or creative.
- Have a scheduled time for electronic toys or screen time.
- If possible, observe your child without interfering or making them feel conscious on what they are playing this will give you a good insight into their areas of interest, their talents and though process. This will help you as a parent not only understand your little one but to engage with your child in a better and meaningful way.
We hope has sufficiently highlighted the benefits of free play and the importance of play based learning and has motivated you to think of free play as a very useful and productive time for your kid.
We at the Yellow Playschool believe in the merits of free play and have mandatory time allocated for such activities. Our timetable is decided in such a way that 40% of the time the child is engaged in child lead activities (indoors/ outdoors).
It is our strong belief that during these times of un-structured play, play based learning happens. Our kids will reap all the benefits that are listed above.
They Also learn to create their own entertainment and engagement through free play. Since these skills are learnt during early childhood days, studies show such kids relatively do well during solitary and down-time phases in their life.