Importance of Free Play in Children

We've heard it before, children learn when they play. Play is critical in child development and it is a right of every child as acknowledged by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. But how much do we know about the importance of play in our children's development?

Little V with a playmate at the community playground

I usually watch TEDx videos via YouTube and there was one I recently saw that sparked my interest and inspired me to write this post. It was a talk by Dr. Peter Gray, a developmental psychologist and research professor at Boston College. In his speech, he explained the continuous decline in the freedom of children to play and the correlation (not causal) it has with the increase of related mental disorders, like anxiety and depression, in the last half century. As a parent, I am concerned about the well-being of my child. Thus I need to open my mind to these discoveries and get as much take-aways as I can.

What is Play?

There are 2 kinds of play: structured and unstructured. Structured plays are what you would normally see in sports where kids are directed by adults. Unstructured or free play, on the other hand, is a self-directed and self-controlled child-initiated kind of play where children are free to roam, discover, direct, and learn by themselves without an adult intervention.

Current Situation

Dr. Gray believes the decrease in play in children can be attributed to society's schoolish view of child development. Time spent in school has increased over the years, homework has been overwhelming, and children have been subjected to extra-curricular activities that left them with less time to engage in free play. We are developing our children through, as how Dr. Gray calls it, resume-building. All parents, I think, at least once thought of how will their child measure up in this globally competitive generation. We have at some point created a list of things we want our children to learn and achieve; and there's nothing wrong with that. We all only want what's best for them. But let's not forget to let kids be kids.

"Our children don't need more school.
They need less school.
Maybe they need better schools 
but they don't need more school."

Benefits of free play

By letting a child play freely, like prancing at the playground, pretending to be a cook, running around with playmates, we are fostering an environment where their physical, social, and emotional skills are developed. There are several benefits our children can get from free play. Let me share with you some of these.

Free play lets children and young adults:
  • Build creativity and innovation
  • Develop motor skills
  • Promote creative problem-solving
  • Experience joy
  • Learn how to get along with peers
  • Practice empathy
  • Learn to acknowledge other people's points of views
  • Practice self-control
  • Be more attentive to academic tasks
  • Develop character virtues like self-worth, perseverance, confidence, and courage 

Free play is essential for a healthy social and emotional development of children. Through free play, children learn to experience that they are not helpless; that they are capable beings in control of their own lives. Watch the video below if you'd like to see the speech made by Dr. Gray.

I agree with Dr. Gray when he said that our children don't need more schools. I hope that whenever I would feel the desire to push academic subjects to my little one (when he grows a little older), my maternal instincts will remind me that there's more to life than resume-building.

Now, off we go to the playground! 

How about you, how do you encourage free play in your family? Let me know in the comments section!


  1. I love free play! especially when there's no yaya and I'm trying to cook :D

    1. True to that! A pleasant "me" time while cooking! :) Thank you for dropping by, Rina.

  2. Love this post, because as a mom to a preschooler, I've noticed that kids nowadays are bombarded with academics very early on. They have lots of textbooks for kindergarten (even had a hard time making reviewers for my daughter for last week's 1st quarter exams). I agree that kids naturally learn from play, that's why I make it a point to free my child's weekends for unstructured play. It's also a break from all the heavy schooling during the week. :)

    1. You're right, Michelle. Children nowadays have so much academics being fed to them at a very young age. You're doing a great job for giving them a break from the heavy schooling. Thank you for dropping by! :)

  3. I love that quote! And I agree. Kids learn more when they are active and engaged in the learning process. Less textbooks and more play!

    1. Time to burn the books now, eh? Just kidding! LOL! :)

  4. Playground time! My son spends a lot of time playing BUT always inside the house. We need to make time to join him in exploring more places -- playground, parks and hopefully spend time in the farm and beach soon.

    1. That's also our problem, Nadia. He was able to play outside a lot during summer but since it has been raining a lot we're mostly home. The beach is calling me, too! LOL!

      Don't worry, as long as we let them play on their own, we're good. Teka ha, kakainin ko muna yung "niluto" nya na tinola. Haha! :D

  5. I do hope playgrounds are abundant here in the Philippines, clean and safe ones. I also must remind myself to be cool, and not frustrated, when my kids don't get their lessons.

    1. Yes, Cym. I do hope too that we can have clean safe playgrounds here. We're thankful that our community has a small playground outdoors for the kids. It can get too crowded though on sunny days. For the meantime, we would have just to shell off some money so our kids can enjoy those at the malls.

  6. love the post! Wishing that city government will improve our playgrounds - making it safe and colorful.

    1. Thank you, Cha! :) That's also our wish. I hope our local government can make a mandate to create and/or improve our playgrounds.


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