Child-led free play is unstructured time where children set the rules and call the shots. It’s a moment for them to navigate social interaction and explore the world on their own terms and at their own pace. It’s nothing new. In fact, for most parents, their childhood days were filled with it. Unstructured, self-led play was the cultural norm.
Not any more. Modern children are seeing their free play time dwindle. It is being steadily squeezed out by organized sports, dance, and extra-curricular academic lessons. The so-called “child enrichment” culture is taking hold.
As parents, we only want the best for our children. Yet we could be overlooking one of the most important parts of growing up: play.
Did you know that science has shown that unstructured free play is vital for our children’s all-round development and well-being?
Play builds on personality, stimulates cognitive development, and encourages social and emotional skills. Here are just a few examples of the important benefits of free play.
Children that are always having their day planned out for them in a structured manner miss out on certain opportunities. This includes the ability to learn independently. When a child is involved in every aspect of their being through free play they begin to feel the empowerment of who they are.
Research has shown that children that are not allowed to experience any risk-taking activities are more prone to anxiety. This can affect them even into their adulthood. Free play provides them with the opportunity to experience low risk-taking opportunities in which they can overcome their fears.
Through imaginary play, children can take on the role of other people to experience and sense how others may feel. This also provides them the tools to further their sense of self and how they fit in the world.
Modern research suggests that play may increase neural structures, assist in the learning process, and play an important part of a child’s cognitive development. It may even go so far as to help children cope with complex mental health issues.
Free play that is initiated by children has been shown to enhance the imagination and creativity levels in children. By playing in an unstructured environment that is based on the rules set by themselves, children are able to turn the impossible into possible.
Being able to let go of the normal standards of everyday life allows children to think freely and independently. Thinking out of the box can lead to a whole new world of possibilities. This time away from structure allows them to consider concepts and ideas that are normally out of their reach.
Social play brings children together in an environment where they are free to establish their own rules and forms of play. It is during this time together that they will begin to understand the concept of socializing. This skill will be vital to children as they grow to be adults.
It is inevitable for children to fall into a conflict while playing freely with each other. While the experience may feel uncomfortable to them, it is a necessary step that will teach them the ability to negotiate through their problems and cooperate.
Having grown up in an era when my parents were both perfectly comfortable with me being out until dark by myself, I find it quite strange that we have a need for a free-range parenting law.
But that’s where we are. Unfortunately, many parents are afraid to let their children explore their world in an unstructured manner due to the judgment from other parents and the fear of liability. These new laws will give parents peace of mind when providing their children with the freedom to grow and develop a sense of self.
Parents can now begin to move out of the era of fear when it comes to their children. While they still need structure in their lives, providing kids with a way to enjoy free play and unstructured time is essential to their personal growth and development. They are children, after all. They will have plenty of time to be adults when they grow up.