How Free Play Affects Child Development

An essential part of child development is free play and it brings numerous benefits in many ways. Especially free, outdoor play helps children become stronger and more resilient and it prevents obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and problems with bones. It also relieves stress and anxiety while building confidence. Children also learn how to socialize and get along with other children and how to solve problems in social situations.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the opportunities for free child play has rapidly diminished as parents work long hours, technology is easily accessible and very tempting and the number of extracurricular activities has risen.  While there isn’t an exact number of hours that children should spend in free play each day, it’s recommended that it be around an hour of physical activity away from any type of screen. Studies show that this brings the most benefits to children of all ages and development.

The problem with overscheduling

Free play is a crucial element of a child’s development as it contributes to the social, cognitive, physical and emotional well-being. However, if children are overscheduled with numerous extracurricular activities, they aren’t left with much time for play. Even if there’s extra time, they are usually too tired after their structured activities and unmotivated to seize the opportunity to play.

Playtime development

Each stage of a child’s development brings about a different type of play. At a toddler stage, it’s mostly about developing fine and gross motor skills such as walking, crawling, jumping, throwing, kicking or rolling a ball, climbing ladders and using swings and slides.

The development at this stage is quite rapid as children are naturally very curious and want to explore everything they see, particularly the outdoors. They should be given ample opportunities to play outside in a secure, safe and supervised environment. This is why it’s extremely important to choose a good institution, such as a reputable playground in Hong Kong, where they would get a wide range or tailor-made sensory and physical activities that will enrich their learning journey.

As children continue to grow, so does their learning ability. They engage in a more active play with other kids, learn to communicate and share. They also learn how to express their emotions and interpret other kids’ emotions. They begin to grasp fantasy and use their imagination. A great way to bring out dramatic play activities is to provide them with the opportunity to play at safe jungle gyms, tree forts and slides and be free to run, climb and jump.

In this way, they will develop their coordination and balance, social skills and independence. Until the age of five, it’s recommended they play like this at least 60 minutes a day and the transition to at least three days of vigorous activity and three days of muscle strengthening activity each week.

Older children and play

School-aged children enter a phase of both physical and emotional change and they grow bigger and stronger while still developing their fine and gross motor skills. At this point, the focus slowly shifts towards their peers and peer influence becomes very important. They enjoy spending time with their friends and being a part of a group. Resolving conflicts becomes an often practised skill at this time. Playing with other kids and having supportive, non-interfering adults will encourage their independence.

Teen age brings about puberty and rapid changes both physically and emotionally. Kids become interested in team sports and competitive games and yearn for independence from their parents. Being physically active becomes more important than ever as it helps teens maintain good physical health and relieve stress. They enjoy both competitive and non-competitive activities but they also have a strong need for privacy. At this stage, it’s important they get enough sleep, exercise and proper nutrition.

Free play allows children to explore their own imagination and the world around them. They also learn how to control their emotions, cooperate with others and resolve conflicts. Even though it’s meant to be unstructured play that is not controlled by adults so they can freely develop their skills, it doesn’t mean it should go unsupervised.