The Importance of Free Play for Children

This post was sponsored by Landscape Structures as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

I am passionate about the importance of unstructured free play in childhood development and I’m so happy to be working with Landscape Structures today to share why all children should have the freedom to play.

The freedom to play shapes who we are, how we relate to others, and what we think of the world around us. Today, I'm sharing strategies so parents can allow more free play in their lives

We are Shaped by Play

“Play is the work of the child.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

That quote has informed much of how I have raised my daughter and run my home daycare.

Children need play, and many of the things they need to learn can be learned through play.

Through play, children learn cooperation with others, they learn their limits and capabilities, they learn communication skills, and they often learn academic skills in a hands-on way. They also learn about themselves and their own likes and dislikes.

When we look at how brains develop, children who are given lots of unstructured free play time have strong neuro-connections and are often more emotionally regulated than children who do not have free play. 

Study after study confirm it’s importance – and the UN High Commission for Human Rights has even recognized play as a right of every child, stating: “Children shall have time to rest and play and equal opportunities for cultural and artistic activities.”

Ironically, I often find myself scheduling “unstructured free play time” into our lives because sometimes it feels like our society has forgotten the importance of giving children the freedom to play!

Between the pressure to enrol our children in extra-curriculars, limited recess times, homework being sent home at super young ages, and the notion that children need to be on a path to achievement at a young age if they are going to have a solid future, we can see how even young children are losing out.

However, simply “letting the kids have time to play” can actually be harder than it sounds, for the reasons listed above and more!

Some ways that I’ve been able to prioritize play in our lives include:

  1. Creating different “play zones” in our home.
    Ella doesn’t like being far from me, so while we are super lucky to have a playroom in the basement, it simply won’t get used if I am stuck upstairs cleaning, making supper, or finishing up a bit of work.

We have a musical area in the living room, craft corner in the dining room, some special toys in her room, and a drawer dedicated to all things slime and play dough in our sun room. No matter where we are in our home, there is an opportunity for her to play.

2. Adding a “playground errand.”
When I have to run an errand on the other side of town with my daughter, I make a point to also look on the map for a new playground to explore! It makes our errands so much smoother and eases any guilt I may have about taking up our evening with an errand. We love getting to find new, amazing playgrounds that we otherwise would have never known existed!

3. Car “play time.”
Rather than rely on screens in the car, Ella and I love to use our imaginations. She has a couple of dolls that stay in the car, as well as a clipboard and markers for drawing, but her favorite thing is to just look out the window and daydream. I sometimes like to grab audiobooks for long drives.

 

4. I don’t work between the hours my daughter gets home and bedtime.

This was a hard limit to put in place for me, but having that firm boundary has freed me up to play with my daughter and gives us time to go to the playground or just have quality time together. For you, this boundary may look different – just think of anything that gets in the way of play or quality time with your children.

 

5. Embracing how my child plays while also giving new opportunities.

Ella is simply not a block builder. Of course I learned this after investing hundreds of dollars creating the ultimate “building center” in our playroom. She loves mini characters and small worlds, something that I had overlooked.

In this same vein, when my daughter goes to the playground it’s easy to encourage them to play on the equipment the way we think they should. (“Hey come down the slide. Do you want to go down the fire pole?”)

But children can come up with amazing play strategies on their own! Did you know that climbing UP the slide is actually really beneficial to their development? As long as it’s not blocking other kids from playing, this is something we can ease up on. (I hope it’s the same for the fire pole, because my daughter loves climbing up that rather than sliding down!)

(You can also watch this video here.)

Play Shapes Us

I have seen first hand how play shapes children, watching them learn life lessons and build positive communication skills, but also letting children discover things about themselves.

Has your child ever become utterly fascinated with a toy or play area? Maybe it was trains, or a play kitchen? In exploring their interest through play, children are able to figure out who they are.

Healthy risk taking in play can also be a great way for children to play and explore their limits.

My daughter has always been intimidated by ziplines, and trusting her to know her own limits while offering to help her explore our playground’s zipline she has slowly empowered her to warm up to the idea. Many young children are similarly nervous about going down slides, or crossing slack bridges, but encouraging them to “take that risk” when they are ready is a great way to build confidence.

It also encourages them to take healthy risks in other areas of life because they have practiced that skill of assessing their limits and trying new things.

Conquering our fears, knowing our limits and trying new things are life skills that will never lose their importance!

I think it’s interesting, too, that we can easily get swept up in bringing our children to the latest VR attraction or trampoline park (two huge trends right now) but honestly, my daughter is just as thrilled when we pull into the parking lot of a playground.

(And not to mention, it’s usually a much more pleasant experience, we leave happy, and it’s free!)

Recently, my daughter had a really sad day at school. She felt left out and “not popular” – and needless to say, I was devastated for her. I didn’t really know what to do beyond giving some encouraging words, but I thought stopping by a playground so that her day could have a positive ending would be fun.

While at the park, not only did she have fun, she also made quick friends with another little girl who was playing. It reminded her that she is someone that others want to play with and how easy it can be to make friends. I think that experience changed how she felt about that day and herself.

I truly believe that giving my daughter the freedom to play has positively shaped who she is and given her confidence in herself and her social skills.

I’m curious to hear from you – how have you or your children been shaped by play? Have you seen new interests, stronger social skills or more confidence in your child after they have been given the freedom to play?

All of the pictures from this post were shot at a Landscape Structures playground. They design amazing playground that welcome all ages and abilities, making them perfect for meeting up with friends or making new ones.

Check out their website to find the Landscape Structures playground closest to you, or if building a playground is something that your school or daycare centre is discussing.

Finding awesome playgrounds while travelling is something we love doing, and I’m so excited to add the Domino Park playground in Brooklyn onto our NYC to-do list for next month!

The design was inspired by artist Mark Reigelman’s interpretation of the Domino Sugar factory – featuring actual pieces of the original factory throughout an innovative design where “kids scramble from the sugar shack up to the masher tower and over to the centrifuge.” How cool is that?! What an amazing experience for young imaginations.

Why is free play important? And how can we give our kids more of it? In this post I delve into all of the benefits of free play for kids, and how you can build in time for free play - even on busy errand-filled days

Pin this Post to remember the importance of play – and also so you can check out the Landscape Structures locations near you, or while you are travelling!

For more fun ways to facilitate free play, check out our DIY Firefighter Costume for Kids or our DIY Madeline Story box for Kids.

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One Comment

  1. I remember when my son was this age, he loved going to EVERY playground around. It’s so good for them to GET OUTSIDE! That’s how I was raised- we didn’t have electronics, cell phones, even a TV- my dad said it was broken. 🙂 We had the whole backyard, front yard, neighborhood and nearby school playgrounds!

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