Updated: Feb 22
Ever noticed the fact that children are able to entertain themselves in any situation? A simple walk in a shopping mall could be imagined as a crocodile-infested swamp with the floor tiles seen as footholds to survive. A holding of a wok and spatula could be used to narrate a battle between two warriors in an epic story of heroism. The ability of a child to improvise and have fun is still an extremely powerful tool when it comes to their learning and development which is the very essence of Free Play.
What is Free Play?
Free Play as suggested by the name is unstructured and voluntary. This spontaneous form of play is child-initiated and is driven by the child’s innate curiosity and desire to have fun through the exploration of objects, places, and people around them.
Free Play can occur anytime and anywhere. It could be as simple as using a blank piece of paper to create different objects or even picking the leaves on the walkway to form words and images. It is a type of play that can cater to any situation and unfolds differently according to the child’s imagination. Whilst Free Play helps to widen the child’s knowledge and expertise on different areas of interest or subject matters, the process can also create opportunities for Social and Emotional development (Growth of the Heart).
Social and Emotional Benefits of Free Play
Often, children are unable to properly communicate and express themselves at a young age. Free Play acts as a form of language for children to express feelings that they are unable to accurately put in words. Most of the time parents understand how their child is doing and get them to talk about their day. The replies that parents receive usually require further elaborations and clarification.
The ability to properly express one’s feelings even as a child is an important aspect of growth. They provide emotional benefits by helping the child to understand and process their own emotions. For example, when a child is unable to accomplish the task that they have decided during Free Play, they would experience anger, sadness, and even grief. This experience allows them to process certain negative emotions so that they become more self-aware and learn ways to cope with them.
Not only that, Free Play allows children to interact with other children and people around them. Although Free Play is a child-initiated activity, it can also be done with other children and adults. The simple gesture of passing you their favourite toy or pulling you along to join them expresses their desire for you to be part of their experience. Through these various interactions with other children and adults, it helps them to reconcile certain social expectations and rules such as respecting another individual’s personal space. Motivated by the desire to have fun, children learn to share ideas, listen and compromise with others.
Another benefit of Free Play is that the unstructured nature allows children to be exposed to more things, settings, and environments. In the midst of Free Play, any form of situation can occur and that is when learning and development take place.
Like piecing together a big puzzle, the exposure allows the children to make sense of the world around them as different situations unfold. Other than the outside world around them, this form of exposure helps to bring about certain inner exploration about who they are, how they are feeling, what they can do, their strengths, and even limitations. Knowing oneself is a long and continuous process, being aware of one’s emotional capacity is an important part of their identity. It can provide opportunities for the child to reconcile with themselves and improve on their shortcomings. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is an empowering experience that cultivates self-confidence but also humility as well. These are key areas that contribute to their personal growth and emotional development even as they become adults.
The social and emotional aspect of a child’s development is important as they discover and develop self-awareness, coping strategies, interpersonal skills, and learn about the different expectations in the community. Oftentimes, individuals with a strong set of social-emotional skills tend to be able to better manage life challenges. Through Free Play, children can develop their social-emotional skills and parents play a huge part in this. There it is important to understand the different ways to help enhance a child’s play experience.
Click here to understand the importance of play and certain tips parents can follow to increase the effectiveness of play.