Benefits of Free Play

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Structure is always an important part of our child’s life as it engrains patterns and routines. This could be in the form of playdates, soccer practice, or piano lessons. 

Sometimes though, we overlook the most fundamental skill that our children need—free play. They need time to be by themselves and learn how to let their imagination grow. 

There are a considerable number of benefits of free play that lets them interact with the world and allows kids to act like kids.

Some of the benefits of free play include: 

  • Teaches independence 
  • Lets them discover their interests and skills 
  • Develops play and social skills
  • Creates decision-making skills 
  • Builds their imagination
  • Develops motor skills 
  • Allows them to experiment 

Teaches Independence 

Every now and then, you may not have the time to play with your child as you have hundreds of things to get done. Letting them play on their own allows them to foster the independence needed later in life when it comes to schoolwork. 

Not only that, it teaches them to think for themselves and come up with their own games that help them grow as a person. If you need to cook or do some studying, give your child a cardboard box and let them get creative! 

If your child is very clingy and doesn’t understand when it’s playtime for themselves, write it up on a board. They will still see a structure and be more inclined to follow it with fewer tantrums. 

Discover Skills and Interests 

One thing I learned with having two kids is that no child is the same. One may love a particular game while the other may hate it completely. Allowing them to have free play time lets them find what they like and show what areas they excel in. 

This will help you massively when you’re looking to find extra-curricular activities for them. My daughter refused to join in when we were playing baseball or basketball, but as soon as we got the paints out, she rushed to them. 

The next day I got her her own child’s art easel and she uses it daily. 

Leave different activities around the house for them to try if they’re interested. If they favor something, make sure to note it down!

kids playing

Develops Social and Play Skills 

Having your little one indulge in free play with other children can have massive benefits on their social skills. They will learn how to take turns with certain games and share when needed. 

It will also help them understand how to deal with arguments and how to overcome them. These are essential skills that they may not learn in structured playtime. 

Arrange a playdate with some of your mom friends and see how the children all interact. Try not to get too involved and let the kids work everything out for themselves. You will be surprised by how easy they take to it. 

Only intervene if the arguments start to turn into bullying or things get physical. Sit them down and explain it’s not okay and have them try again. Over time, they will understand how to share and play fairly

Creates Decision-Making Skills 

When your child is doing structured playtime, such as piano lessons, everything has been organized for them. All they have to do is make sure they’re hitting the correct keys at the right time. 

Free play offers the benefit of making their own choices on what to do and what to play. This could be building a fort out of pillows or working as a team to make sandcastles.

Whatever it is, your little one will be learning skills that will help them in the future to make calculated decisions. 

Have children split into different groups and let them all have different roles. One could be a leader, while the others are helpers. See how they take on the challenge of making decisions to help their team excel. 

Builds Their Imagination 

Having your little ones play by themselves allows them to create their own games. Instead of being told that they have to draw a dog and color it in, they can let their imagination flow. 

Telling your children that they have an hour to play whatever they like will let them come up with games that you have never heard of before. One day they may want to enjoy some cooking role play or playing outdoors in a playhouse, and the next day they may want to build a cage for their dragons or sand castles in a sandbox. It’s endless.

If it’s hard for your child to come up with things, write a few ideas on some large dice and get them to roll it. Whatever it lands on, they have to make a story or playtime out of it. My youngest loves this as it gives her an idea and then she can build from that.

There are certain toys that stimulate creativity. Give your kids a set of walkie talkies and then sit back and watch what they come up with.

Develops Motor Skills 

Active play is vital for your child’s development, especially when it comes to motor skills. Picking up pencils and crawling around helps develop their muscles and joints to get them moving and keep them healthy. 

It helps them with their coordination skills as well as using up most of their energy for the day. Who wouldn’t want that! 

When my oldest was younger, even giving him a box of Legos to play with meant that he was able to use basic motor skills. Picking up and joining pieces together furthered his skills and helped later in the classroom. 

Allows Them to Experiment 

If all your children have is structure, when they go to school, they won’t know what to do with themselves during recess. Giving them free play allows them to experiment with different games and ideas while learning at the same time. 

Put things out that link to math, English, or science and watch them make a game out of it all. They are learning without being bored in a classroom. 

This type of free play is especially good if your child struggles to focus in lessons. Giving them a game designed around a subject they struggle with will help them show a bit more interest and hopefully improve in their classes.

Ready, Set, Go! 

Not only is free play an incredibly valuable experience in life, but it also teaches children essential skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. 

The next time your child is bored, let them invent a game and see how much they love it. They may even come up with something incredible and surprise you!

Howard is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Kristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.