Play is as important to a child’s development as learning at school, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating a nutritious diet. Free play is how kids learn about each other, the world, and themselves.
In fact, play is so important to a child’s development that it’s even listed as a fundamental human right on the United Nations human rights list.
The beauty of play is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it – it looks different for each child. Play is all about interacting with the world, exploring, learning, and experimenting.
Free play is an activity initiated by the child. It can be anything from daydreaming, playing video games, or playing with toy blasters. As long as the child has enough freedom to initiate their own play experience, they are engaging in free play. Most of a child’s development occurs during this unstructured playtime.
Here are three reasons why the importance of free play in a child’s early years cannot be understated.
Engage imagination and creativity
When children play, they flex their imaginations. A child can create make-believe worlds and games, make up their own plans and rules, and learn how to initiate and adapt them. Acting out different solutions to imaginary problems also boosts their self-confidence. All of these skills are vital in later life and help foster relationships with others.
Symbolic play is a way to imagine an object as something else. For instance, leaves, rocks, a bucket, and a stick can become ingredients, a cooking pot, and a spoon.
Symbolic play is a vital part of child development because it teaches skills like problem-solving, learning, and creativity – all valuable skills for later in life.
Foster cognitive growth
Unstructured playtime is when children are not bound by schedules or guided by adults. Instead, they control their own play. Unstructured play is important for healthy brain development and cognitive growth.
When children engage in free play, they strengthen the neural pathways in the brain that allow them to think. Unstructured play also develops the prefrontal cortex as children learn how to solve problems and analyze their environment.
Behavioral and emotional benefits
When we feel overwhelmed in our adult lives, we tend to gravitate to soothing activities and hobbies – like going for a walk, going to the gym, or reading a book.
These activities aren’t just a distraction from stressful situations; they are a way to engage our childlike side and ground ourselves. The same is true with children.
For a child, frequent periods of unstructured play can help them deal with stress, irritability, and anxiety. Free play also boosts their self-esteem and helps them get in touch with their emotions in a way they can process and comprehend.
Free play teaches children how to navigate the world in ways they can understand. And when children play with each other, they learn how to solve conflicts, share, speak up for themselves, negotiate, communicate effectively, and collaborate.