The Value of Free Play

9:14 AM Posted by Jo Pedranti


I woke up early this morning to the sound of my two youngest playing in their room. The whole room was taken over by LEGO creations in various shapes and sizes. My children have always been encouraged to do spontaneous activities, and they have plenty of unstructured time. I have never heard them say they are bored or that they don't know what to do. Over the years I've seen their friends quickly get bored, or that  they lack imagination to play when they visit us. 


Most children have hours of structured time in schools, starting already in pre-school where they focus on early learning, computer literacy, or using various in materials in one way rather than being play-centered. On top of it many children spend the rest of the time on adult-centered sport or enrichment classes. In between all the structured activities they manage to watch TV or movies, or play video games for a few hours a day. It doesn't leave much time left for free unstructured time to do what they want to do. 


Only  10 years ago when my oldest son was in kindergarten, I saw the neighborhood children  playing outside my house. It was often teenagers playing around with the basketball and they often let the younger children play too. Other children were outside with their bicycles or skate boards. I hardly ever see any children playing outside anymore, and if I see any children most of them sit around and do nothing. Children are kept indoors of fear, or they are constantly supervised, and the children are driven to their friend's house instead riding their bikes. 





"The child's ability to pretend that a basket of pine cones is baby chicks one moment and apples the next reflects the child's fluid consciousness and is excellent preparing for reading, where written symbols represent something else." Pathways to Wellness Magazine, Issue 14.

The picture above shows Alex with a rock that he used for his dinosaur museum, and it is one of his  dinosaur skulls.  



Paola and Alex collected rocks in various shapes and pretended they were parts of dinosaurs, and they created a museum for us to see. They gave the rest of the family a guided tour with facts about different dinosaurs.


It is important for the development  of the ability to take initiative and the development of the will, that children have unstructured time in environments that encourage creative activity. Therefore, all children need "off time" where they can be initiators of their own activity. When the child is very young it is very important with  imaginative free play because it nurtures the kind of creativity which will be transformed into creative thinking. When young children are using their imaginations in play, their brains are working and developing in a much healthier way than when they are made to sit and do pages from workbooks. 


When we moved back to US from Europe several years ago we decided not to sign up to cable or satellite TV. It was only supposed to be temporary, but we noticed such a difference in our children that we made a permanent decision not to install it. We do have Netflix, and we also use hulu.com and i-tunes when we want to see something.  It works great. There are no distracting commercials telling my children about the must have toys, and  when the show is over it is over. There are no teasers about the program coming up next. Having no TV for several years has also improved my children's play.






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This post is linked to: 
Seasonal Celebration SundayEco-Kids Tuesday
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