The Importance of Free Play

Activities for Kids

Toddler drawing on sidewalk with chalk
Alex Vlassov

The next time your child goes to the pediatrician it might be a good idea that she leave with a prescription for some daily free play time.

Overscheduled Kids

With all of the structured activities and the strictly scheduled lives that many kids have these days, some are left without any real time to just play, which is considered a birthright by many experts.

Piano lessons.

Soccer Practice.

Cheer camps.

At the end of the day and once they finish their homework, have your kids had any time to themselves to just play with friends in the neighborhood or do other things they want?

If not, you might need to dial back their schedule and add in some free play time.

The Importance of Free Play

So why is it so important to let kids play?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Clinical Report on "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds," in addition to being important to healthy brain development, the benefits of free play include:

  • allowing kids to use their creativity and develop their imagination, dexterity, and other strengths
  • encouraging kids to interact with the world around them
  • helping kids conquer their fears and build their confidence
  • teaching kids to work in groups, so they learn to share and resolve conflicts
  • helping kids practice decision-making skills
  • that it is fun

It is important to note that this kind of play is meant to be unstructured, child-driven play. It is not the kind of play time that is totally controlled by adults and doesn't include passive play, such as sitting in front of a video game, computer, or TV.

Keep in mind that just because free play isn't controlled by adults doesn't mean that you shouldn't supervise your kids while they are playing, especially if they are playing outside.

Examples of Free Play

True free play is any kind of unstructured activity that encourages your child to use his imagination, such as playing with blocks and dolls. It wouldn't include playing with most electronic toys.

A group of kids playing soccer in the backyard together, versus only playing on a team with a coach, would be another good example of free play time. This type of active free play is also a good way to help your kids meet their daily physical activity requirements.

What To Know About Free Play

If you are simply running from activity to activity and your kids are overscheduled, consider cutting back a little and adding in some free play.


American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics. January 2007, Volume 119 / Issue 1.

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