The Importance of Free Play in A Child’s Development

The benefits of free play and how parents have an important role in a child’s time playing throughout the day. Research shows that free play is an essential component of raising a healthy child. Free play time allows preschoolers to play on their own terms, although that doesn’t mean parents can’t play a role in the experience.


The Importance of Free Play

The benefits of free play range from advancement of motor, cognitive and language skills to the opportunity to allow children to find the things that align with their true interests, said Hope Gerde, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University.

“Meaningful free play is child-led and open-ended, which means the child gets to choose and create what they want to play and the play can move in many different directions,” she said.

Gerde said parents looking to enhance their preschooler’s developmental skills can encourage their children to role-play everyday experiences such as grocery shopping or cooking a family meal. Free play also is employed in preschool classrooms.

When adults participate in a child’s play, meaningful learning can occur, Gerde said. Parents can provide materials, time and space for free play to occur. They also can play along with the child.

The Benefits of Free Play

Social Benefit
Children ages 3-5 need time to develop social skills before kindergarten, Gerde said. The best way to do this is to gain more time with peers outside of close family. Providing children with adequate peer time allows them to become aware of social rules such as sharing, give-and-take, right and wrong, and group problem solving.

Creative Benefit
Gaining a few extra minutes of playtime will allow children to increase their imagination, Gerde said. At this stage in their growing process, children have an egocentric view of the world. Giving more time for pretend play in order to fuel their imagination can increase their chances of viewing the world “in another person’s shoes.”

This is an important aspect of play because it gives children a chance to creatively solve problems and realize the importance of emotions such as empathy.

Academic Benefit
The more time that children are allowed to create, express themselves and learn on their own terms, the better prepared they will be when they are placed into a formal academic setting, she said. Supplying more time for free play allows children to develop the love of learning that they will carry with them throughout their academic careers.

PHOTO CREDIT – Build Up MI (with permission)

This article is provided by Build Up MI of Metro Detroit for Oakland County Moms. Visit to learn more about the importance of free play in a child’s development.

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