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  • Writer's picturePaula Robertson

The Power of Free Play in Childhood

Discover the benefits of allowing our children free unstructured play


I was fortunate enough to recently spend a wonderful short holiday break with family friends and all of our children. During that time, our kids all had the opportunity to enjoy lots of outdoor time and free play, without the constraints of structured activities and routines or even the incessant pull of screens and devices. It was wonderful to see the children relaxed and thoroughly enjoying themselves. That got me thinking about the sometimes undervalued power of free play.


In today's fast-paced world, the value of free play for children has at times been overlooked. However, free play is more than just fun; it is a crucial component of healthy growth and learning. In this article, we'll explore the advantages of free play and provide practical tips for you to foster it in your children's lives.



Unleashing Creativity and Imagination:

Free play offers children a blank canvas where they can explore their creativity and imagination freely. Without the constraints of adult guidance, children can turn everyday objects into anything they desire, whether it's building a fort from blankets or transforming a cardboard box into a spaceship. Engaging in imaginative play enhances problem-solving skills, promotes divergent thinking, and cultivates a sense of wonder and curiosity.


Practical Tip: Create a designated play area with a variety of open-ended toys and materials. Allow your child to choose what interests them and avoid dictating how they should play with them.



Building Social Skills:

When children engage in free play with their peers, they learn vital social skills such as communication, negotiation, and empathy. They discover how to share, take turns, and cooperate, which are essential aspects of forming healthy relationships.


Practical Tip: Organize playdates or encourage outdoor play with other neighborhood children. Supervise from a distance, but let the children resolve minor conflicts on their own, as this can foster problem-solving and conflict resolution skills.



Enhancing Cognitive Development:

Free play aids cognitive development in various ways. It challenges children to think critically, make decisions, and plan their actions. Additionally, playing with different materials and experimenting with various scenarios enhances their problem-solving abilities.


Practical Tip: Provide your child with age-appropriate puzzles, building blocks, or open-ended toys that encourage experimentation and critical thinking.



Reducing Stress and Anxiety:

In today's increasingly structured and demanding world, children can experience stress and anxiety. Free play offers a much-needed respite from these pressures. It allows them to unwind, release pent-up emotions, and reduce stress through the joy of play.


Practical Tip: Incorporate regular play breaks in your child's daily routine. Set aside time where they can play freely without feeling rushed or pressured.



Strengthening Physical Health:

Outdoor free play has numerous physical benefits. It encourages children to be active, improving their balance, coordination, and motor skills. Exposure to natural settings also fosters a sense of appreciation for the environment.


Practical Tip: Encourage outdoor play by organizing family outings to parks, nature reserves, or simply playing games in the backyard.



So, by allowing unstructured playtime, we give our children the opportunity to develop crucial skills, cultivate their creativity and build meaningful connections with others. Let's strive to strike a balance between structured activities and the power of free play, allowing our children to thrive and discover their full potential through the joys of unguided exploration and imagination.


Be well,

Paula



Dr Paula Robertson is a busy mom and a paediatrician with over twenty years' experience working with young people and their families. She is also a certified children's mindfulness teacher and Positive Discipline Parenting coach. You can find out more at www.paulathedoctormom.com.

Our AI wellness assistant has contributed to the writing of this article.

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