Why Kids Need Free Play

Why Kids Need Free Play

Free play is a time during which children can choose whichever activity they want. They can play a game or use a toy for as long as they wish during this open period, and they can decide when to stop playing with a toy and pick up something else.

Studies have shown the benefits of free play. It aids social, neurological, and mental development, improves mental health, and helps them gain skills that they can use in school, sports, and life in general.

This playtime can occur at home, in a school, or in a daycare setting. It is not entirely unstructured, since you can supply specific toys, activities, or games and set guidelines for interacting with others.

Here is a closer look at the benefits of free play.

Free Play Helps Physical Development

Some children may not naturally engage in physical activities during free play. However, if you provide them with playground equipment such as a play set, a sandbox, gardening toys, or other outdoor toys that require movement to enjoy, they will usually increase their action.

Remaining active during free play can also help children maintain a healthy weight. For younger children, daily activity can help prepare for all-day school physical demands, organized sports, or other extracurricular activities.

Free Play Develops Kids’ Imaginations

Free play encourages the development of a child’s imagination. Kids are free to use toys, equipment, or games as they wish. They do not have to play according to specific rules so that they can use their creativity freely.

Since many children spend a lot of time on screens and devices, the chance to use their imagination and creativity is even more vital. They learn to entertain themselves rather than expecting a tool to do so for them.

Again, as a parent, caregiver, or educator, you should not instruct them to use their creativity during free play. However, you can offer toys, equipment, or games that will encourage the use of imagination.

Free Play Can Improve Performance in School

Free play allows children to engage in activities or subjects that naturally interest them. This engagement can help them define their interests from an early age. It can also help them develop a sense of curiosity that could make them motivated and excited to learn in an academic setting.

Because there is no pressure to learn or perform academically during free play, kids can develop a natural curiosity, and an enjoyment of learning and discovering that may translate to a formal school environment.

Kids may also experience less stress when in school if they have a healthy and positive relationship with learning. They will not associate learning with sitting at a desk and doing homework before playing video games; instead, they will see it as an opportunity to discover new things.

Free Play Can Improve Mental Health

With academic demands and the reliance on devices, children have seen a decline in the amount of playtime.

The quantity of time that children play has steadily declined since the 1950s. Free play has dwindled. Some children may not know how to play without the assistance of a device or directions from an adult.

Parents who have too much influence on children’s playtime can lead to anxiety and unhappiness. Children who become accustomed to structure and taking directions from an adult may feel less confident when performing tasks independently.

They may also be more anxious in general. Free play can help with anxiety and increase confidence because there is no worry about following rules or reaching goals.

It can also help children develop their own identity and interests independent of their family or parents. This sense of independence can translate to school, where they will be able to work more independently.

Free Play Allows Parents to Have a Positive Influence

Parenting often involves telling children what to do for their own good. This dynamic is vital to child development, safety, and a well-functioning household.

At the same time, free play gives parents the chance to encourage children rather than set boundaries. This encouragement can be direct or indirect.

For example, you can encourage a child to engage in specific activities during free play. Perhaps they show an interest in art, so you could set out finger paints or crayons for them to use.

To remain a free play period, however, you should not require that they use these things.

You can also encourage them more directly by showing an interest or a sense of pride in whatever activities they choose to do during free play. This act can give them confidence from knowing that you are proud of them for pursuing things that interest and excite them.

Free Play Encourages Self Reliance

Children can develop a sense of individuality and self-reliance through free play. Giving children freedom does not mean letting them fend for themselves. Instead, it means acting like a “hummingbird parent” and observing quietly from a distance rather than a helicopter parent hovering right overhead.

Kids will learn to solve simple problems themselves and rely on themselves instead of looking to you for everything.

You can encourage this self-reliance and individuality further by engaging kids AFTER their free play. This step gives them a chance to interact with you on an equal footing.

They can share what they did during free play just as an older child or adult would say what they did at work or school. Not only does this include them in the “adults’ conversation,” but it gives them a sense that it is acceptable for them to act independently.

It is essential to remember that free play is not the same as letting a child wander without regard to safety. Let them know that they are free to walk around the confines of a yard, beach, or park but should not venture further.

These general guidelines will vary depending on their ages, and you should not offer any directions about what they should do during free play beyond the basic need to stay safe.

Free Play Increased Happiness

Play is supposed to be fun. This statement might seem obvious, but it is also easy to forget. Kids have experienced a decline in the amount of play that they get during a given day. At the same time, more stressful activities often took the place of this free recreation.

The decrease of playtime coincides with an increase in the amount of time engaged in structured, stressful activities.

Free play allows kids to pursue things that make them happy with no other conditions attached. Kids also learn a critical and overlooked skill during these periods: deciding what makes them happy. This skill is one that many people have forgotten, so developing it is vital to mental health and fulfillment in life.

How to Organize Free Play

Free play is, by its nature, unstructured. However, you can set parameters and provide indirect guidance to children to help them get the most out of these times.

Balance Structure and Free Play

Free play is vital, but it does not mean that you need to sacrifice structured activities. The key is to find a balance between classes, sports, and school and playtime.

Rather than filling every day of the week with activities, you can alternate between classes or structured events and free play. Or, you can ensure that there is at least some time set aside every day for undirected play.

Get the Right Equipment

You can provide options for kids. Some children’s interests are obvious. You will get a toy, game, or play equipment that you know they will use. For others, it is best to provide different options.

Since it is free play, the best policy is to let them choose what they do by themselves.

Rather than getting one expensive toy that you’d then feel pressure to have them use, you can get a variety of reasonably-priced toys to offer them options.

Kids may use some toys in a way different from usual. They may choose to play with the box that a toy came in rather than playing with the toy itself. A basketball may become a chair, and a stuffed animal a basketball. In the context of free play, these alternative uses are completely acceptable.

Don’t Stress about Sticking to a Schedule

You do not want to force kids to engage free play. If you make free play mandatory, it defeats the purpose.

With a well-balanced schedule, opportunities will present themselves naturally. Parents could tell their children to play while they prepare a meal or do a chore. In some cases, their children may surprise them by choosing to help with the cooking or cleaning instead of picking up a game.

Overall, though, the goal is to get children to enjoy and look forward to free play instead of making it another necessary part of a busy schedule.

Lead by Example

You are never too old for free play. One of the best ways to inspire reluctant children to play is to do things you enjoy yourself. There are two ways to model-free play for your kids.

One is to set aside time to engage in activities that you like. Whatever they may be, these activities show your child that things that you enjoy and make you happy can be a priority.

Another way is to engage with the kids using whatever toys they enjoy. You can get down and play with them, responding to however they choose to use that particular toy.

Don’t Solve Boredom for your Kids

While it is alright to offer different toys and equipment, you shouldn’t try to solve children’s boredom if they come to you for help.

One of the goals of free play is to help kids develop the confidence to act independently. That includes solving problems like boredom when they arise.

Respond to Your Kids’ Needs

Some children may embrace free play. Others may not want to interact with other kids and seem to prefer sedentary activities. These children can still enjoy unrestricted free play, but you may also want to consider activities that will provide physical exercise and interaction with other children.


Free play can improve mental and physical health, enhance development, increase confidence, and promote a sense of self. Though free-play is unstructured, parents can offer children toys, equipment, or games to use as part of their play.

The positive results of free play are easy to see. You will likely notice happier, more confident, and more creative kids if you increase and encourage free play.

Brett Gordon

The brains behind The Toy Report. Having clocked tons of time in toys research and online resource development, today, Brett is dedicated to making The Toy Report a trusted space in the world of toy reviews and recommendations.